CROYDON COMMENTARY: A former council insider responds to our report about the borough’s vanishing street bins with their insight into the authority’s procurement process – which they find to be disorganised and open to potential corruption
There is a big problem at the council with those writing the contracts.
It all begins with a lack the knowledge or basic understanding of what they wish to purchase in the first place. You then have different departments all wanting to stamp their “speciality on the process. There’s the buying team, the procurement team and thereafter the department that wanted a contract tendered. None of them know what they want.
In reality, most departments in Croydon Council don’t actually do anything; they just write “policy”. Everything is then delegated to the service delivering and they are expected to understand and deliver the “policy”.
When the council signed its first IT contract back in 2002-ish, an audit was done of what the council and its staff would need. This was all done without the staff and teams even being spoken to or asked what their IT needs might be. A big, shiny expensive contract was signed and the lowest common denominator of kit was placed on the desks of council staff.
Staff asked if there were any scanners available. No scanners had been ordered in the contract. Obviously, the supplier was very happy to add this on to the contract after the fact, but only at a ridiculous additional expense.
Five years after the first contract began and Crapgemini (as they were known by all council employees), were handed a five-year contract extension, to continue to handle all the council’s IT and telecommunications infrastructure and networks, including 4,000 desktop computers, as well as “key business applications including finance, procurement and customer service”.
Crapgemini were even appointed as the council’s consultants to provide “expertise to support the wider transformation of local services”. Putting them in pole position to advise on what a wonderful IT network Crapgemini had provided… And all at a cost to the council of a cool £83million.
But that’s how procurement at Croydon Council works. Or at least, how it works for the outsourced service providers, rather than the borough’s residents.
For years, under an agreed contract, Veolia’s door-to-door domestic refuse collections have been monitored by… Veolia. It was a rubbish system when it was introduced when the Conservatives were in power at the Town Hall, and it is a rubbish system which was allowed to continue under Labour.
Croydon simply does not have the calibre of business-educated senior management. Just the merry-go-round of low-grade local government senior managers who are often too arrogant to ask for advice from their staff or those who actually deliver the services.
This is the way Croydon Council works. The procurement department doesn’t actually buy anything. They just write policy. Finance don’t actually do any accountancy. They just write policy. HR don’t actually do any recruitment or HR-ing. They just write policy. And on and on and on we go, leaving the poor middle managers expected to understand, implement and deliver. All devolved responsibility.
It is a system stripped of any initiative or commonsense, all reduced down to a series of box-ticking exercises to comply with policy…
In 2006, a local business who had served Croydon Council for more than 20 years, were removed as an approved supplier because they failed one of the procurement requirements, as laid down in policy.
That requirement was to provide a recruitment advert showing they were an equal opportunities employer. The local business could not provide such an advertisement: they were a family firm and had not recruited any staff for 40 years. So one day they were approved and OK to work for the council, the next they were dropped.
The procurement people at Croydon Council also don’t audit the council’s need for a product or service when placing a tender or contract. That is of no interest to them, only the box-ticking process of placing an advert according to EU or government rules and ensuring all responders tick the boxes required.
The procurement team has zero interest in the product or service delivery of a contract or purchase that they are responsible for. All they are concerned with is a legal tendering process and the processing of the placement, or review of submissions. Quality, service delivery, price and the needs of the service are of no interest in the process.
Ticking boxes is the focus to them.
- The author of this commentary column worked for Croydon Council for 30 years, and has asked that their identity should not be revealed
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