Search and rescue helicopter procurement – what’s gone wrong?

A contract to provide MOD / Coastguard Agency search and rescue helicopter services - a 'privatisation' deal in effect - awarded to a consortium of Thales, RBS, and CHC Helicopter, was put on hold just before Christmas when Philip Hammond (Transport Minister) announced that certain irregularities in the procurement were being investigated.  The fear was that a losing bidder might have grounds for legal action against the decision.

Now we hear that the Military Police are involved, with allegations that a Military official involved with the contracting process passed sensitive information to the winning bidder, and then took up a job with one of the successful  consortium members.  The  service should have started in 2013. Here's the channel 4 news report)

This could mean re-starting the contract with major implications for cost and continuing service, not to mention MOD's reputation.  The new competition could well take over a year, and put back implementation by at least that long.

If it is true that the person involved joined the winning firm, it would be unusual for anyone of any seniority to be allowed to do that immediately after a procurement if he / she had been closely involved in that process.  It depends however what information was involved; someone quite peripheral to the core procurement process might still have information that was useful to a bidder.  And how has this come to light?  That's another interesting question.

I suppose I'm hoping with my selfish professional hat on that it wasn't a procurement official anyway, and the fact that it is the Military Police investigating suggests that it may well be a uniformed individual.  And if this is true, what will be the bidder's explanation?  That they thought the information they received was being made available to everyone?  That might be a feasible defence, although major procurement processes tend to be so structured that information is usually provided in a pretty formalised manner and it is very obvious it is going to all bidders.

Again, with the caveat that we don't know the full details, it may turn out to be another argument for greater use of technology to provide a strong audit trail and track exactly what happens through the process, which documents are made available to bidders, how evaluation is carried out and so on.  Although even that cannot stop a rogue individual who is really determined to tilt the scales towards their favoured bidder.

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