Tuesday, 10 May 2011

How to prevent small business getting public contracts the Manchester City Council way

I know, dear reader, that you love the great city of Manchester. I know that my criticisms of that city's civic leadership have focused on their budgetary incompetence but today I want to use their procurement processes to show just how anti-business - or rather anti-small business - Manchester City Council has become.

I spent quite a lot of today - on top of a previous frustrating day - trying to complete a 'pre-qualification questionnaire' for a research and analysis 'framework' contract. Now it seems to me that this sort of contract - in essence an approved list of research, evaluation, intelligence and analysis providers - is an area where there are a multitude of smaller providers, one man bands, partnerships and social enterprises. Manchester however has clearly decided that these smaller providers are beneath them for they require the following documents:

  • Two years of audited accounts - bit tricky for a start-up business, maybe a couple of recently redundant council officers just starting out!
  • Insurance documents showing £10m public liability, £5m employee liability and £2million professional indemnity - that's a grands worth of insurance just to bid!
  • Signed and dated policies covering equal opportunities, quality, health & safety, environmental and sustainability
  • Three testimonials and three public sector references for work done for each lot - if you're bidding for all the lots on offer that's nine testimonials and nine public sector references
  • Certificates, qualifications and profiles of all the people who have worked on the projects referred to in the testimonials

And in the City council's PQQ documents there's a whole sector on "sustainability" (bear in mind this is a tender process for research and consultancy rather than supplying products, digging roads or such) including such gems as:

Please summarise how you minimise the environmental impact of your work activities, including any procedures for life cycle analysis of the procurement, use and disposal of products.


What environmental objectives and targets have your organisation set against which performance is measured? Where appropriate, please state your current top three objectives and their relevance to your industry.

We're talking here about small consultancies providing research expertise - these sort of questions are simply not appropriate nor to they contribute anything to making Manchester City Council more sustainable - whatever that means. It does, however, get even better:

Please summarise how your business can help the city support the Council’s Sustainable Procurement Policy’s key objectives? A copy of the Sustainability Policy can be found here: www.manchester.gov.uk


Please detail your willingness to work with the city council to contribute to the city’s Climate Change Action Plan target to reduce the city’s CO2 by 41% by 2020. A copy of Manchester’s Climate Change Action Plan can be found here: www.manchesterclimate.com

This approach to procurement - adding in spurious idiocies about "sustainable procurement" and "climate change" that might make some sort of sense in the buying of gas supplies, building materials or road construction but just put off small suppliers of consultancy and research.

Councils and other public sector bodies talk a great deal about opening up procurement, about supporting small business and the voluntary sector in the procurement process and about local purchasing strategies. This one PQQ demonstrates to me that - in Manchester's case - this is just talk. The procurement process merely suits the bureaucrat and the big business, it prevents innovation, discourages small and start up business and excludes new entrants through the use of frameworks and approved lists.

But then, why am I surprised? It is Manchester City Council after all and we know they can't manage their way out from a wet paper bag!



chris said...

I can feel your pain. Lancashire County council have come up with a similar procurement for broadband improvements - unless you have a £100 million turnover you can't tender. Yes right. So who has? Yup. The incumbent. Who will now take all the public money to patch up their obsolete copper network and we will never get NGA. A short video at their cabinet meeting made it pretty clear who would get the tender...

Anonymous said...

Here is a story for you. Professional in child protection needs to ring a Housing Association. There is ONLY a call centre number so she waits for 28 minutes to get through to a housing officer. She emails the Housing Association suggesting that they may want to offer an alternative number with a speedier response for professional partners to contact them. She gets a reply which says 'We only have one telephone number.' The strapline for the organisation in question? 'Putting Customers First'.

syeds said...

Thanks for providing Sustainability Policy copy to improve my Business Contracts