About the Author

Ken Cole
SPS Consultancy

Ken Cole has worked in senior positions in both the public and private sectors and was one of the founding Directors of SPS in 2001. He recently completed a three year secondment as Director of the London Centre of Excellence. Ken has thrilled many public and private audiences with his incisive analysis, robust delivery and his belief in 'telling it as it is'. His blog is a regular commentary of the improvement and efficiency agenda.

Make sure you pay a frequent visit to find out Ken's latest thoughts on the workings of government, the latest policy initiatives and much more...

Recent Blog Posts...

Hijacking Procurement
Ken Cole
Mar 25, 2013
Mr Pickles uses the 'P word'.
Ken Cole
Mar 07, 2013
Haringey Leads London
Ken Cole
Feb 14, 2013
Time to rethink Supplier Evaluation
Ken Cole
Aug 30, 2012
Smoke and Mirrors in Whitehall!
Ken Cole
Jul 12, 2012
Collaboration at its best
Ken Cole
May 25, 2012
Latest Procurement Card Scare
Ken Cole
Mar 21, 2012
iESE - a model for a Big Society?
Ken Cole
Mar 06, 2012
I wandered lonely as a Cloud
Ken Cole
Feb 03, 2012

No Winners on the West Coast Rail Franchise!

Oct 08, 2012

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.



Where do we go from here?

I couldn't agree more with the comments above but my fear, based on many years experience on working on large government procurements, is this will not be an isolated incident. Some of the things I have seen in the last few years are truly shocking, in terms of lack of experience, incorrect data and also trying to retrofit a business case to match government policy. I think a public enquiry might be the best way to examine these issues but I think that the lack of a business case culture in the public sector is the first stumbling block.
Michelle van Toop
12/10/2012 16:23

West Coast Rail Franchise

You might be right on the generalities across Whitehall; but in this instance (as seems to be ignored elsewhere in the press) most of the senior management and staff I have identified as being involved in this franchise had considerable experience both here and abroad in the rail industry and in commercial transactions. It was not the policy team. And in the case of the senior management – despite what Gus O’Donnell has said on the matter were paid a pay premium for their services. The actual root cause of the problem seems from the Government statements to be construction of the spread sheet/financial model which contained several errors and were not check until it came to prepare for the judicial review.  It would seem that Officials should have undertaken checks before giving robust assurances to Ministers and Ministers should have been cautious given the source of the complaint. In all it has not been handled well.
Mark Upton
08/10/2012 18:41

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