Sherlock Holmes and the Small Suppliers to Government (part 2)

(Our heroes have found three brilliant mathematicians kidnapped in the a Whitehall basement. As steps are heard in the corridor outside, Holmes and Watson hide urgently).

Like lightning, Holmes darted behind a large bookcase, and I followed him. The key turned in the lock, and two shadowy figures entered. The taller, his hair slicked back from his forehead, was smartly dressed and very well spoken . His voice was educated, precise, with a touch of arrogance and power.

“How are we doing, gentlemen? Do we have the figures yet? Does it add up to 25%?”

"We are trying sir, we really are. But we just can’t get the numbers to compute. We have tried everything – we have included suppliers through the supply chain, third sector, we’ve applied Boolean logic and Bayesian probability but – we just can’t do it".

The shorter jailor then spoke – I could not place his accent, but I knew Holmes would have identified him already to the square mile of his birth.

“Look, you jokers. We’ve been good to you so far. But if you don’t come up with the goods soon, things are going to get ugly. You hear me? You think we were tough on G4S and Serco? Just wait and see what we have in store. 25%, you understand? By tomorrow! Or else...”

With that, they left.

"Quickly, tell us more" Holmes whispered.

"When we were brought to this dungeon we were given an impossible task. The Cabinet Office received data from departments for their spend with small suppliers, but it showed that spend had not gone up at all since last year! So we were told to look at the information, and find a way to make the numbers look like the 25% target – sorry, aspiration - was achieved. Then the government could claim success”.

Holmes laughed.

"There is an irony of course, which I am sure you brilliant mathematicians will have discovered. Let us says that a small supplier is found who offers most excellent service, and the government places a large contract with that firm. But then, because of that growth, the probability is that they would no longer be counted as an small enterprise. The measure contains the seeds of its own destruction! But that is no excuse for detaining these good men".

I gasped. "By George, you’re right Sherlock. But what are we going to do"?.

"Sometimes Watson, the old methods are the best". With that, he called out .

"We have it! 25.2%! We have got the evidence”!

Then he took a position one side of the doorway, and beckoned me to the other. As the door opened, and the two men eagerly rushed in, we had the element of surprise. Holmes took out the first man with one blow to the midriff, whilst I used my trusty left hook, which served me so well in the Army boxing championships, to despatch the other. We quickly secured them with the light but strong rope I always carried and with our Mathematicians in tow, we found our way back to the entrance and soon we were back into the chilly yet fetid air of Whitehall.

Back at Baker Street, Holmes was in a thoughtful mood.

"Watson, it is a rare event, but I do owe you an apology. You were right to point out that report on the government’s spend with small suppliers, and I was too engrossed in my torpor to see the significance. It is clear that the spend data did not show what the politicians desired, and with the general election just months away, desperate measures were needed. So the Mathematicians were tasked with coming up with creative ways in which the target could be reached – or at least ways in which it could appear that the target had been achieved. I wonder - could they ever have found a way of pleasing their masters"?

With that Holmes took himself off to his room and a relaxing pipe of opium. And the very next day, the figures were mysteriously published in the London Gazette, and the truth of the spend with small suppliers was made clear to everyone. And just six months later, at the general election ... but no, that is another story!

(Last year, the figures on UK Government spend with SMEs were published in early August. This year...nothing. It seems clear that the numbers don't show what Francis Maude wants them to show, or I think we can assume they would have been published by now. So either frantic work is going on to fiddle, sorry massage, sorry, adjust them to the desired level. Or can he delay them till after the election? Does anyone care, including Her Majesty’s Opposition, who have been noticeably silent on the issue? Watch this space!)

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  1. Sam Unkim:

    If only Sherlock had checked the next basement along and freed the “Crown Representatives for Health” to carry on their sterling efforts on the NHS’s Key Supplier Management programme.
    Now that would have been a result……….

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