In recent days TuS and its contributors have sought to make good some of BBC Scotland’s deficiencies in news coverage. Specifically, they have been addressing the problem of the public service broadcaster’s persistence in being a context- and perspective-free zone. This has included highlighting the UK government’s very major mess over procurement of the Ajax armoured vehicle and – this is hard to believe – its inability to avoid having all six of the Royal Navy’s high tech, high value destroyers out of action for renovation/upgrade at the very same time.
Candidly, more examples of Westminster government procurement and related management ‘difficulties’ are not hard to find. Here are some independent assessments from National Audit Office reports published over the past two months alone.
Tracking costs is a Westminster problem!
Source: NAO (5 April 2022) Managing cross-border travel during the COVID-19 pandemic – Cross-government. Summary Report.
Para 18: ‘Government has not tracked the cost of implementing its cross-border travel measures in response to COVID-19 despite spending at least £486 million.’
Project/programme design and management seems seriously flawed. From para 21: ’While it is inevitable that policy and implementation needed to evolve to meet the changing nature of the pandemic, a lack of formally articulated processes and routine management obscured performance, expenditure and risk management.’
And: ’Government has not clearly articulated how it is assessing the success of its measures, which have also incurred costs and exposed the taxpayer to fraud. As it has not developed a set of performance measures to track the effectiveness of the measures it has deployed and with no evaluation of the additional costs incurred, government cannot demonstrate its implementation measures have achieved value for money.’
And so it goes on!
Source: NAO (30 Marc h 2022) Investigation into the management of PPE contracts – Department of Health & Social Care. Summary Report.
Para 14: ‘ By November 2021, it had cost the Department £737million to store PPE,
£436 million of which was due to the Department not being able to remove items from shipping containers on time. The Department has incurred penalty charges of £436 million because it did not have sufficient storage capacity in the second half of 2020 and had to store PPE in containers for longer than planned.’
Para 15: ‘The Department has identified some 3.6 billion PPE items that it has concluded are not currently suitable for front-line services, equivalent to 11% of all PPE it has received. These items were purchased at a cost of £2.9 billion.’
Para 16: ‘The Department has 1.5 billion items of PPE where it estimates that the expiry date for use has already passed. The Department estimates the cost of these expired items to be £619 million.’
…. and on!
Source: NAO ( 24 March 2022) Investigation into the government’s contracts with Randox Laboratories Ltd – Department of Health & Social Care. Summary Report.
First for context, Para 8: ‘Between January 2020 and December 2021, the Department of Health & Social Care (the Department) and Public Health England (PHE) awarded 22 contracts to Randox Laboratories Ltd (Randox), or its strategic partner Qnostics Ltd, with a maximum value of £776.9 million.’
Para 13: ‘The Department was unable to provide some of the key evidence we would expect to see to support its decision-making on the first contract. Because basic information about the emergency procurement process, including evidence of approvals, was not recorded in the Department’s established systems, the Department had to review several officials’ email accounts to find evidence on its decision to award Randox the first testing contract.’
The NAO report adds: ‘The Department provided an email to us in which the then Minister for Life Sciences gave his authorisation for civil servants to proceed with the contract, although the then Minister told us he did not consider he was being asked to formally approve the contract itself.’
And this: ‘The Department gave us incomplete or no documentation on other significant aspects of the procurement, including detailed due diligence, detailed contractual negotiations leading to the first contract award, and consideration of potential conflicts of interest.’
Para 14: ‘.. The Department agreed to pay Randox a unit price of £49.60 per test for almost 2.7 million tests but could not provide us with any documentation on the negotiations for this contract award.’
Para 17: ‘The Department did not specify key performance measures in the contract. …. the Department did not document key decisions adequately, disclose ministerial meetings with Randox fully or keep full records of ministerial discussions involving Randox.’
Where are the ‘scandals’?
With only a little effort, reviewing only a few of the NAO’s most recent reports, it’s been easy to discover a rich seam of news stories about a government with huge potential for ‘scandal’ headlines. Just the sorts of thing covered day after day, week after week, month after month by political journalists working for a public service broadcaster – but only in one nation of the UK!