Buy Cheap, Buy Twice

© Vangelis |

Sir Richard Branson seems hopping mad…and well he might, after losing what had become his “baby”, the West Coast rail contract, after 15 years. Speaking as a Northerner who has lived with West Coast travel through the Virgin years, I can say that the service has gradually improved…the constraining factor seems to have been the track not the trains.

Sir Richard claims that the contract has been awarded on the basis of price, which he thinks will be unsustainable as happened in 2007 and in 2009 when the Department of Transport had to take back the East Coast line because the companies awarded the contract could not afford to run it.

Will this contract fail as many have in the past? I expect it will. I used to get the train into work (if I couldn’t avoid it) and remember the announcements while we were stationary at platforms where staff were trying to crush commuters onto already full trains…”we are not going anywhere until you all move up together”. FirstGroup who have won the bid said that they expect the number of passengers to rise…where do they think these passengers are going to come from?

Government purchasers never seem to realise that cheapest isn’t always best…maybe you’ve heard the old saying “you don’t get sacked for buying X – (enter the name of an international supplier at X). Procurement is mostly about risk transfer…getting the job done cheapest and with minimal risk to whoever is procuring.

A recent example is the G4S fiasco. This is probably a case of the procurement team confusing “blame” and “accountability”…they can blame G4S but they themselves will always be accountable.

Look also at the LSP contracts placed by NHS Connecting for Health…litigation and counter-litigation virtually guaranteed from the start.

SMEs are more likely to be awarded public sector contracts in Scotland than in England and as an SME I’m not surprised by that, considering the level of knowledge amongst the buying community…”big” is seen to be the safest way forward.

But then what is safe? Government have agreed mechanisms to identify suppliers who don’t deliver…which is astounding this late in the game. Most of the population knows how to pick and choose their “suppliers” based on performance…

Parents need to meddle, if we are to medal in 2016

A levels are out at last…how exciting!

Well maybe not as much as it was in my day, when everyone went back into school to see their results posted, catch up with friends, talk to teachers about the next steps…all sounds a bit Boys’ Own Paper or Jolly Hockey sticks compared with today.

I had reason to phone our local secondary schools a few weeks ago to see if I could post a notice for this year’s leavers and thought Results Day would be a good time to catch them…not happening I’m afraid. Recorded messages told me the schools won’t be manned again until September.

I’m guessing this is about keeping the results private, in the wake of our 1980s educational changes to ensure that nobody ever fails…something that I hope will be overturned if we are ever to prepare our youngsters for the real world and for working with others in a team.

That the “everyone wins” culture in state schools is bad for achievement is also supported by Bristol MP Charlotte Leslie.  She has joined the debate on why more medal winners are from private schools and whether it is the achievement-driven policy that works…she should know having had first-hand experience…and my belief is that you get what you pay for with a private education…longer hours, newer equipment, highly paid coaches, etc.

Encouragement to win is a big one and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour had Judy Murray on today talking about how parents could handle their child’s talent for sport and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s a bit easier if your parents are encouraging and can afford to buy you the kit.

But the Government appear to be actively discouraging sport in public sector education, still selling off playing fields despite the campaigns to stop the rot…
…while showing us that standards are improving? Yes, 98% of all marks today are passes this year.

On the subject of exam results in general, what on earth is a “CC” or a “D*D*D*” for goodness sake? How are employers like me who are a long time out of education to compare results?