Last week’s event provided an unedifying spectacle and an unhappy reminder of the significant skills and knowledge gaps that exist in large parts of the public sector. For me, there were no winners here – it was an over simplification to say that Richard Branson has done us all a big favour, especially when it is dressed up as Coalition bashing. While Virgin may well have exposed a major defect at the heart of central government, there are far more examples where losing companies are crying foul every time they lose a contract to a rival. Maybe they all have a case, but more likely is that they ‘got beat fair and square’ – move on to the next contract!
Politicians do not feature well here at all. How come the process moved from ‘robust’ to ‘significantly flawed’ in a matter of weeks? Is it inept Ministers, poor briefings by officials or possibly both together? Whatever the case, this has done little for the reputation of either politicians or civil servants.
Then there is the issue about the qualifications and experience of those undertaking the evaluations. Would having CIPS qualified people on the team made any difference? This was a complex exercise involving a host of legal, financial and commercial considerations. Building a team with those skills sets would be a challenge for many private organisations, let alone a cash strapped government department where the generalist policy person is regarded as king (or queen!)
Perhaps someone might suggest we have an enquiry into all the PFI contracts on the books – or more accurately off the books? Many of them show the same level of ineptitude in the contracting process too! The West Coast debacle is just an extension of a terminal decline that started over 25 years ago.