The current G4S Olympics debacle (can I use the word debacle, or have LOCOG been granted all the rights to it?) did make me wonder if at any time in the last 20 years (say), any UK government contract has been delivered on time, for the cost originally agreed and representing the entire scope of work specified in the contract? I have a nasty feeling that the answer will be firmly in the negative.
I will admit that I am no expert in the field on purchasing – I still like to work within the Corinthian spirit of the amateur game – but I feel it is high time the government made the commitment to turn professional.
If my very cursory view of the story is even roughly correct, it would seem that G4S provided the lowest bid for security at the Olympics. However, the actual cost charged by G4S will be many times higher than this (even with penalty payments). This combination of events is not at all uncommon with poorly drafted contracts, the contractor is able to add significant charges for variations and changes in scope (charges that are now entirely free from the pressure of competition). Even given this huge increase in the value of the contract, it seems that G4S are still unable to meet their contractual requirements and we have had to call in the public sector to bail them out (why do I find myself remembering about the Banks? Who will bail out the private sector when the public one has been cut and privatised away?). To be honest, I’m surprised we still have 3,500 people in the army and police combined, given the aggressive pruning of numbers that has been occurring: let alone that many with free time on their hands. Presumably, as long as you steer clear of Stratford, now is very much the time to either (a) invade or (b) launch a crime spree – it all smacks of 1066 to me, I think we should keep an eye out for any boats leaving Normandy for the environs of Hastings.
I think I may have the solution to our current economic woes. Rather than cutting people and services left, (mostly) right and centre, perhaps the government should invest some of the vast quantity of money we give it each year into recruiting some people who can draft and enforce a decent purchasing contract. When I was younger, purchasing departments were staffed with hard-bitten (often Scottish) men (well, this was the 80s) who would have no truck with the idea that people or companies were essential good or honest. All purchases were made on the basis of cast-iron contracts, with no wiggle-room for the vendor and swingeing penalties for non-delivery. Whatever has happened to these fine folk? Can none be tempted into a life of public service? Given the amount of money being lost through the current appalling attempts at contracting, we can afford to pay these people the sort of salaries of which bankers and Premiership footballers can only dream – and still be quids in! This G4S mess alone, if properly contracted, could have freed enough money to support tens of libraries for years to come.
A cynic might wonder if the fact that most of the government have never had a real job, or in the case of the cabinet much in the way of money worries, might be contributory factor? I also worry that the government thinks that the money it disburses (much of it very wastefully) is its own – rather than that hard earned by its less tax-savvy citizens and corporations. Perhaps if ministers had to personally fund the extra cost caused by their contracting errors, they might take a little more care in drafting the contracts in the first place: if we are to be ruled by the fabulously wealthy, at least we would see some benefit from it! Over time, my approach might see a switch from government by the rich to government by the competent: though sadly I can’t see this change coming about any time soon as the current incumbents seem unlikely to support its passage into law.