The catering equipment manufacturing community finally got to hear from the man at the helm of the Government Procurement Service’s controversial public sector tender process earlier month.
Having met with CESA representatives in the wake of the furore that erupted after only one manufacturer from a list of 31 which submitted applications made it through to the award stage of the tender framework, GPS managing director, David Shields, agreed to address suppliers in person at CESA’s annual conference.
For many of those in attendance, Shields’ 15-minute speaking engagement was the most anticipated slot on the conference agenda, if only because of how contentious the whole tender episode has been.
Judging by his expression as he took his place at the podium, I’m pretty sure that Mr Shields would have preferred to have spent his Friday afternoon anywhere else but in front of a room full of 200 baying catering equipment manufacturers.
After spending the opening part of his speech providing those listening with a general background of what the procurement service does, he got round to tackling the issues that everybody was there to hear, namely why the tender process for catering equipment had descended into such a farce, with four Lots devoid of any nominated suppliers altogether.
To his credit, he was frank and to the point in his assessment of what had gone wrong, admitting the GPS was guilty of trying to shoehorn old processes into e-enabled ones. A system that was designed to be fluid and robust had ended up becoming what he called “clunky” and “difficult”.
Clearly Shields and the GPS weren’t going to take all the blame, however. He told suppliers that the level of detail required in the applications reflected the fact that public sector standards were far higher than what many might be used to in the private sector. And he hit out at the lack of responsiveness evident in some submissions.
In the end, the presentation passed off without incident and Shields dodged the heckles that he must have been expecting. It was perhaps telling, however, that apart from fielding two or three pre-prepared questions from CESA, there was no opportunity for the floor to put any points to him.
Whether a Q&A session was abandoned to avoid any potential confrontation, or whether it was a condition of him appearing as a speaker, is not entirely clear.
But that was it. Led by one of the event managers from the stage to a side door, he made his exit and went on his way. Somehow, you got the feeling he’d left suppliers with more questions than answers.