Earlier this month the first Proctopus Christmas Party and Awards evening took place in the glittering surroundings of … Zoom.  Proctopus is an informal group, largely LinkedIn based, that has grown through this year to provide networking, career support and general community for around a thousand procurement professionals, many of them interims and “solopreneurs”.

Great credit is due to Dave Jones, Keith McCabe, James Meads and Graham Copeland, the main instigators of Proctopus, who have developed something really quite impressive and heart-warming in its goal to improve life for many who have found this year a bit of a struggle!  Anyway, I sponsored a prize for “ worst example of Bad Buying” at the event – the evening raised a couple of thousand pounds for good causes – and we had a live vote between three contenders:

  • UK government PPE procurement
  • “Other” UK government pandemic contracts
  • Forced Labour in Chinese garment manufacturing

All good cheerful stuff! It was a very close poll, but the “other” pandemic contracts won. I guess the audience of procurement folk really weren’t impressed with the scale and number of contracts awarded by the UK government without any real competition or process, covering communications and PR, consultancy, testing kits, track and trace process management … the list goes on.

Just to continue the theme of poor management practices, it has been impossible to follow the enquiry into the Grenfell Fire disaster without feeling strong emotions. Sympathy for the people who lost their lives, their loved ones, their homes, but also anger – fury, in fact – and disbelief at the behaviour of firms and individuals who supplied the flammable cladding that caused the fire to become so tragic.

There certainly was some “Bad Buying” within this process too. The Kensington and Chelsea council and housing management organisation have not covered themselves in glory, and that includes procurement practices that clearly did not work well given the end result.

But there were supplier firms such as Celotex, Kingspan and Arconic, some of which blatantly lied, cheated, fiddled test results, and threatened those who raised issues. Frankly, it would have been hard for the best procurement professional to navigate themselves through the cesspool of appalling behaviour from too many individuals on the supply side. The building and construction regulators and authorities also failed in their responsibilities, it should be said.

And now there are also thousands of people – perhaps millions –  around the country stuck in flats they can’t sell because of fears about cladding. In some cases, they are paying huge amounts of money for work to be done or for “fire wardens” to sit around all day just in case a fire breaks out and their building’s cladding kills them.  No-one is taking responsibility for sorting this out, but you would have thought somebody was liable here. I also find it infuriating that our government can find £100 billion for a high-speed railway of doubtful value but can’t spend a tiny fraction of that to solve this problem (or indeed to fix Hammersmith Bridge – but that’s another story).

Anyway, that’s not a very festive story for what will probably be my last article of 2020. Whilst it has been very satisfying to see my book published in 2020, and many thanks to all who have bought it, that’s about all there has been in my personal positive column for the year.  So let’s hope there is more “Good Buying” in 2021, and that generally it is a happier year for all of us.

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