NDA Procurement Fiasco – Interim Report Quietly Published (Exclusive!)

You may remember the botched procurement exercise, run by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority for the “Magnox contract”, which led to a successful legal challenge by suppliers who lost the bid.

It cost the UK taxpayer over £100 million, although the National Audit Office report suggested that the overall cost of the work that was being contracted for might involve waste or inefficiencies in the £ billions.

Anyway, last March the government announced an inquiry into the procurement failure to be led by Steve Holliday, ex CEO of National Grid.  We were wondering where it had got to, and after some assiduous googling, discovered this week that an interim report was actually published in October. When we say “published”, we might say “slipped out on gov.uk without telling anyone it had been issued”.

Indeed, we can find no coverage of it at all in the press at the time, so perhaps we should title this article “exclusive”!  (We have). Anyway, we have done a longer review of the interim report over on our sister website Public Spend Forum (PSF), so if you are interested, you might want to take a look.

There is nothing startling to be honest in the Holliday report, no big new insights into what went worng, and most of the recommendations at the interim stage are pretty obvious and uncontroversial. So we need to wait for the final document to see whether he has come up with anything that others like NAO have not already said. As we say in the PSF article:

Many of his recommendations are sensible if somewhat obvious. The failed procurement was too complex, so he suggests the “NDA devises a transparent, but less complex, set of competition rules, focusing on the substance of what it is looking for rather than on process.”  

Information presented to bidders should be “as complete and accurate as possible so that bidders have a suitably reliable starting point for the scope of the tendered work.”  And “threshold” issues – those where a “no” response means a bid is automatically failed – should be used only where it is “absolutely essential.”

But the lack of coverage of the October report does highlight again how British politics is dominated by Brexit and associated issues such as the Tory Party leadership at the moment. Other really quite important issues and questions are just sliding by almost unobserved, although occasionally an NHS crisis or a Carillion breaks through.

This NDA programme was a procurement failure brought about by incompetence, and it cost us as taxpayers £100 million. There are still some serious questions to be answered here about why it happened, as well as the usual “lessons learned” for the future.


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  1. Mr Grumpy:

    Sadly Peter the quest for truth and further scrutiny will be a fruitless endeavour. As much as I find this case frustrating, the most frustrating factor for me is how those involved will not be held to account and are probably relocated elsewhere in the Public Sector fudging up elsewhere. The lack of ethical practice in this case has given Public Sector Procurement a bit of a black eye. It really does cast generalised doubts about the expertise and ability of public sector buyers, because it comes across lacking in this case and it’s cost implications are what polarises it even more. All of my fellow public sector procurement counterparts are astonished and extremely disappointed with the practice in this case. Equally we are also surprised like you with the lack of media attention on this case. I’d say this is more around the general public perception would be one of not being surprised with government cock-up that has cost taxpayers millions and something the British public has become accustomed to.

    I am in no doubt that then when budding future procurement professionals are undertaking their CIPS studies, that this case will be highlighted in many study books that’s for sure. It’s legacy will live on for generations to come.

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