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Bad Buying: How Organisations Waste Billions through Failures, Frauds and F*ck-ups hits the virtual shops and bookshelves next Thursday the 8th (you can order it here) so in the next five days, I’ll take you briefly through the chapters of the book.  Literally thousands of people (well, one at least) asked to see the contents page so here it is, at the end of this article.

Chapter 1 looks at specifications. And I’m sorry to play to stereotypes (and my wonderful “boss” at Penguin is Irish) but my favourite story is the Irish government buying super high-tech digital printing equipment – only to find that the machinery was too big to fit into the Dublin parliament building where it was going to be housed. Take the roof off, that’s the answer… Which just goes to show, that while specifications for complex IT programmes or mega-construction projects can be a problem, sometimes the basics (like dimensions) can catch us out.

But we can also under-specify, trying to save money but in a manner that causes problems or doesn’t deliver real value. There is a theory for instance that the Titanic sank because of cheap iron rivets that weren’t up to the job. And one of my early successes as a young procurement manager was paying more than I could have got away with in order to get innovative Easter Egg packaging designs from my suppliers. Within a couple of years, those new products helped Mars go from having no presence in that market at all, to selling millions of eggs and being a market leader  – yes, it’s the famous Milky Way Rocket Carton!

In the book, we then move on to understanding the market and choosing suppliers. That takes us into dodgy social media practices, the Rowntrees historical cocoa market wipe-out, and the problems when you give contracts to your friends. I know, you would never do that… Anyway, more tomorrow, and here is the contents list.

PART 1:  FAILURE

1. Getting the Specification Right: Irish printers, Easter- egg rockets and Aussie train toilets

2. Understanding the Market: Cocoa beans, fake followers and rehabilitating offenders

3. Choosing Suppliers: Dodgy T-shirts, working with mates and banking fiascos

4. Don’t Get Too Dependent: Seat covers, hospital rip-offs and bigger isn’t always better

Bad Buying Award  – Schlitz Beer

5. How to Negotiate: Charlie Hurley, missile interceptors and consultants’ lunches

6. Understanding Incentives: Cultivating coca, Dutch traffic jams and Birmingham call centres

7. How Not to Be Stupid (particularly if you’re a politician): Misplaced airports, imaginary ferries and Indian offsets

Bad Buying Award  – NHS National IT Programme (NPfIT)

8. Trust No One (at least not suppliers): Lulu the dog, French concert halls and US Navy ships

9. Coping with Change: Technology disasters, fried- chicken shortages and Crossrail delays

10. What’s the Risk?: The wrong fish, Japanese earthquakes and running bears

Bad Buying Award – Berlin Brandenburg (not yet an) Airport

11. The Joys of Contract Management: Bollards, Xmas parties and big IT overspends

PART 2: FRAUD & CORRUPTION

12. The Fundamentals of Fraud: Power stations, hotel bills and the greyhound-racing mafia

13. Who Am I Really Buying From?: Marine hoses, Indian brewers and the ’Ndrangheta

14. Fixing the Supplier Selection: Canadian politics, working with Mum and painting the NHS

Bad Buying Award – Fat Leonard and the US Navy

15. What Am I Really Buying?: Bomb detection, Frenchified kiwi fruit and spaceship resilience

16. Spending Someone Else’s Money: Florida dogs, owl jars and sex lairs

17. What Am I Paying For?: Pricey potatoes, horse semen and shops in Wolverhampton

18. Politics and Fraud: Ski-jumping, bribing dictators and Austrian promises

Bad Buying Award – Petrobas and Odebrecht

19. Preventing Fraud: Collusion, checking and commitments

PART 3: HOW TO AVOID THE F** K-UPS

20. Ten Principles for Good Buying

The Guardian newspaper reported yesterday: “Ministers are considering renationalising the entire probation service in England and Wales, the Guardian understands, in the latest twist in a long-running saga to unwind Chris Grayling’s disastrous changes to the sector”.

You may not be surprised by that, or shocked to learn that the probation services outsourcing is a case study in my forthcoming book, Bad Buying – How Organisations Waste Billions Through Failures, Frauds and F**k-ups.

The analysis sits in a chapter that looks at failures caused by the buyer failing to understand a market or markets. Or, as in this case, having a foolish belief that entirely new markets can be created by sheer willpower – and throwing some government cash at the private sector, of course.

A bit of history first. The UK government decided in 2013 to outsource much of its probation services work, despite warnings from the well-respected Institute of Government that it would be “highly problematic”. The work included the management and rehabilitation of offenders, combining an element of punishment, such as monitoring the conditions of prisoners’ release, with the desire to reduce re-offending and help the offender make a useful contribution to society.

The UK Ministry of Justice, then under the command of minister Chris Grayling (who, you may also not be surprised to learn, crops up several times in my book), created 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) to manage offenders who posed low or medium risk. In February 2015, the CRCs were transferred to eight, mainly private sector, suppliers working under contracts that were to run to 2021-22.

But the implementation was rushed, there was little of the innovation that was promised from suppliers and 19 of the 21 companies ultimately involved failed to meet targets for reducing the frequency of re-offending. In July 2018, the Ministry announced it would terminate its contracts with CRCs 14 months early, in December 2020.

Suppliers didn’t do well either. The National Audit Office estimated cumulative losses of £294M for the firms if contracts continued to the end date, and Working Links, one of the providers, collapsed into administration in February 2019.  Finally, David Gaulke, by now the Minister in charge, announced in May 2019 that the contracts would not be offered to private firms.

Most probation services were in effect re-nationalised after one of the highest profile UK public sector buying failuresin recent years. At that point, some minor services such as the provision of unpaid work and accredited programmes were to be offered up to the private and voluntary sectors. But that now appears to have been abandoned too.

There were clearly many problems here, but fundamental is the issue of an entirely new “market” being created, without real understanding upfront of what the work involved, what capabilities would be needed by the winning firms, how the right commercial models would be constituted or how competition could be maintained and stimulated. 

“If you build it, he will come”, the tagline from the legendary film Field of Dreams, seems to be how some governments think when it comes to creating markets. And generally, some entities will emerge from the undergrowth, bidding to carry out pretty much whatever government asks them to  – drawn by the potential rewards, of course. But this does not create vibrant, sustainable, successful markets in itself.