GPS chief admits flaws in tender process

The head of the government body behind this year’s public sector tender framework for catering equipment has admitted the process was “difficult” and “clunky”, and said “lessons had been learned” over the way it was managed.

David Shields, managing director of the Government Procurement Service (GPS), said the organisation had been guilty of “shoehorning” old processes and techniques into an e-enabled system, which did not work as effectively and efficiently as it had hoped.

Out of 60 separate catering equipment suppliers that registered for the tender exercise, only Hobart proceeded to the award stage for the three Lots it had entered.

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Shields’ frank assessment of the tender process came on Friday afternoon after he agreed to address a room full of equipment suppliers at CESA’s annual conference.

“The procedure needs to change. I am not interested in form filling, I’m interested in delivering value and meeting customer requirements,” he told manufacturers. “I think we shoehorned an old process into an e-enabled system, which frankly just didn’t work, so we definitely need to improve in those areas.”

He said the GPS had already started acting on feedback it had received about this year’s process and now realises it needs to engage with the market earlier than it has been.

“A key element for us will be to go to market 12 or 18 months before we need to be doing the agreement, to look at the specifications and standards, to have a future view on what the supply chain looks like, and [understand] some of the issues and challenges that suppliers are facing in terms of supplying into government.”

The relevance and quantity of questions – more than 250 – contained in this year’s tender exercise received heavy criticism from a number of suppliers.

Shields confirmed the GPS would “rationalise” the number of questions for future tenders, automate the scoring of those questions where practical and make them much more specific to individual sub categories of expenditure.

While Shields acknowledged the flaws in this year’s electronic tendering process, he took the opportunity to remind suppliers that as a public sector body the GPS has to follow stringent procedures, remains subject to regulation and audit, and must act with transparency.

“There has to be records of the spend we are managing, we have to be able to demonstrate fairness, value for money and the fact that we treat people equitably,” he said. “And having worked in the private sector myself before, there is not the same rigour, generally, compared to the public sector in the processes you have to follow. Sometimes that is going to look bureaucratic, but this is billions of pounds of public funds, so to a certain extent we need to go through those processes to make sure that they are as transparent and as evidential as you would like them to be as taxpayers.”

Shields also suggested manufacturers needed to take greater responsibility, calling the responsiveness of some suppliers to the tender application as “quite poor”.

He said: “If I look at it again with my private sector hat on, some of the responses probably wouldn’t have been looked at in the private sector, but we are duty bound to evaluate it. It was a difficult, clunky process and we didn’t execute it well enough, but I think the quality of responses could also be improved and we would like to work with people to show them how to improve some of those responses.”

Shields ended by offering an olive branch to suppliers, insisting the GPS welcomed dialogue with members of the industry, either as individuals or through CESA.

“From my point of view it is an open door,” he said. “We know we have got to improve, but our job is to drive value because we are public servants. We are not here to make profit and we are not here to make it difficult. We are here to try and drive things forward.”

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