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Will My Supplier Deliver? Lotteries, Camelot and Challenges

In part 1 here I discussed the reports that Camelot, the current operator of the UK National Lottery, is going to challenge the government’s decision to award the contract for management of the Lottery to a different firm, Allwyn, headed by a Czech tycoon. That decision follows a lengthy and no doubt exhaustive “procurement” process.

There are suggestions that Allwyn have offered to make more money for charitable causes than Camelot included in their proposal. According to reports, that amount is not contractually  guaranteed, but may have played a major role in the selection decision.  Which leads us into the question of confidence – how do we know that supplier really will deliver what they promised?

There was a great comment on LinkedIn related to the part 1 article. The writer told of a major NHS procurement where a US supplier came in with a knockout bid, which led to other potential suppliers simply pulling out. Then, literally on the day the new service was due to go live, “At the eleventh hour the supplier had withdrawn, admitting that they couldn’t deliver the brief and make the savings claimed”.

There is a huge difference between what suppliers (some suppliers at least) will claim they can do and what they actually can deliver. There are no magic answers to this, but in my book “Bad Buying” I suggest thinking about “analyse, reference, test”.

Analyse means looking into the firm, the product or service that you’re going to buy, doing your research on the supplier and on whatever you are buying. The amount and depth of research needs to be proportionate to how much you’re spending and how critical what you’re buying is.

Reference means asking other customers of your potential supplier or users of the product or service you are buying about their experience. It’s an obvious step, yet it is amazing how many organisations don’t bother with this step. I was asked for input on a legal case in 2018 where an incumbent supplier challenged the decision by a large government body to award a contract to several other firms, meaning that the incumbent was going to lose all its business. This was a really sensitive service; if it went wrong, you might well see reports on newspaper front pages.

Yet when the incumbent firm asked questions about how the procurement decision was made, it became clear that the government organisation had done virtually nothing to check out what other suppliers were claiming in their bids. They had not researched the track record of the firms; they had not taken up references from other customers; they did not even seem to have checked whether the directors of bidding firms had criminal records! The buyer was simply believing the bidders and hoping for the best. The competition was eventually re-started as I assume the lawyers told the contracting authority they were going to lose in court.

Test means using techniques such as pilot programmes or small-scale rollouts that enable you to get a sense of the supplier and their capability, without immediately betting the farm on a particular approach. In a large organisation, you could run a geographical experiment with a new supplier or product. Give it a try in an area, region, an office or a factory, rather than moving immediately to handing over your entire business. Or you might initially use a supplier on a relatively unimportant piece of work.

In the case of the lottery, I assume that Allwyn’s references have been thoroughly checked out. Perhaps most critical – if this comes to court – will be how the projections of the money to be made for charity have been developed and verified. I’m sure the buyer would be expected to analyse Allwyn’s assumptions and proposals very carefully to assess the level of confidence in their figures. If they did not, that could spell trouble.

The final point to make here is that one report quoted Camelot as saying the evaluation had not been carried out as described in the tender. Now if that is the case, the lottery folk are in real trouble.

In terms of public sector tender evaluation, not doing what you told the bidders you would do is in most cases enough for a challenge to succeed.

You simply can’t introduce new factors once bids have been received evaluation; or even use factors that aren’t explicit. Don’t make assumptions. You can’t mark down a bidder for not providing a detailed quality plan if your question simply said, “tell me how you will deliver this work”. If the quality plan matters, tell them to provide it.

Enough of my ranting about evaluation processes (a favourite topic of mine, and we haven’t even got onto evaluating and scoring “price”). We will await the next stage of the Camelot story with interest.

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