UK national technology projects – should public procurement promote collaboration instead of competition?

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Do you remember the UK’s Brexit Gordian Knot episode?  The Northern Ireland - Eire border issues in relation to redlines in the EU-UK departure agreements.  I couldn’t understand why Theresa May, then Prime Minister, couldn’t just bring all the relevant tech companies together to make the border technology work so as to avoid the hard border - create at short notice a best in breed solution taking the best from each qualified supplier - no matter what their commercial rivalry was - this was an emergency.

We know that to solve large scale national and international problems (ideally first time round) accurately, at pace and affordably, we need the holy grail of collaboration and better ways of working.  

This “holy grail” to long term collaboration needs to be built into the procurement process (currently unavailable as an option) and most importantly, the commercial contract terms.  

Every nation wants to achieve world class robust solutions for wide scale national problems at fair and reasonable prices.  The biggest challenge for regulated markets, to my mind, is the insistence that “a good competition” on major technology projects, especially when the market is narrow such as Defence, is the holy grail to achieving value for money, or the most economically advantageous tender.  

Whilst the UK Government assesses the responses to its recent Public Procurement Green Paper Consultation post-Brexit, I query how it will reconcile the greatest problem it faces on large tech projects: establishing a good set of buyer requirements.  From my experience to date, I go so far to suggest that it ought to be illegal for regulated buyers to be found unprepared in gathering their requirements for large-scale technology projects and not mapped identifiable dependencies at an early stage.  

Also, the regulated buyer’s selection and pursuit of an unsuitable procurement process for those requirements ought to have remedies for market applicants where the procurement risks have become high.

The ultimate investor (taxpayer, consumer, patient) should deserve world class public service and national security outcomes.  As it stands, we cannot expect the largest suppliers to pull together in market engagements to provide taxpayers, patients and consumers the best-in-class national and international solutions.  It simply does not and will not happen in competition for these projects the way it currently is.

Defining the processes that form large scale requirements and engaging with the supplier communities properly, inclusively, fairly and transparently, will build trust across all the relationships.  Wouldn’t we rather have a solution where the best of each company has been brought together without overspending or wasting money on procurement process costs?

One to one early market engagement meetings between a regulated buyer and supplier at early market engagement stages, creates nothing but uncertainty and can seriously undermine procurement process integrity - no matter how well the authority “thinks” it has conducted itself.  

Instead of pitting the market to compete heavily against each other for national tech projects, preserving inclusivity and promotion of collaboration from the start to get best of breed solutions for all requirements, surely has to be the way forward.  

So, what are we waiting for UK?


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