The Art of Ticking Boxes
Today, in the process of winning Government contracts, there is no ‘inside track’, writes Graham Archer. Everything is above board, open and transparent, so every company has an equal chance…once it has the time and very substantial resources.
I was speaking recently to the owner of a small business. She had been to a conference on Public Procurement hosted by her Chamber of Commerce and presented by a university lecturer who is expert in that subject.
In a comprehensive presentation, he taught them everything he knew about the process involved in winning Government contracts.
She having revealed that Public Procurement was new territory for her and her company, I asked if she was now minded to go hunting for that kind of work. She answered with an emphatic “no”, adding that it would “take too much of our time.”
So there you have it – in order to create a mirage of transparency and openness, politicians have manufactured a monster, one to which most small businesses cannot assign the manpower required to plough through the processes involved in securing Government contracts. In short, the very people who need Government work cannot devote the time or resources required to get it.
One imagines that we have many readers who would identify with that problem. Unlike large conglomerates, or those well shod consultancies who seem to have no problem in extracting billions from the public purse, small business people are obliged to apply their minds elsewhere when it comes to securing contracts.
Of course, Government work is great when you can get it. Payment will always arrive in the post, as regular as clockwork. The difficulty lies with the hoops that one has to jump through in order to reach that point.
“What about, eh…inducements?” I gently enquired, “did your conference leader mention anything about them?” Certainly not, was the answer. It would seem that, in the eyes of the university expert at least, such thoughts do not arise!
Today, everything is above board, open and transparent. If you didn’t win that contract, it’s because you failed to come up trumps when the boxes were being ticked. Remember that. Remember too to stop complaining that your competitor had the ‘inside track’. There are no inside tracks any more!
“But why, then,” I hear you ask, “do those Government contracts always go to the other guy? What is he doing right that we’re not?”
Perhaps the answer can be found in a chance meeting I had the other day with an old buddy. “Are you still working in the Department of Whatsit?” I enquired. “Oh no…I’m in the private sector now,” he gleefully replied. “Doing what?” I asked. “Public Procurement!” he answered.
This chap – once a key figure in commissioning public works in the Department – had since decamped into a large, private sector consultancy where, pin striped and polished, he was filling all the forms, ticking all the boxes, chasing up all the submissions – and doing everything else necessary to satisfy the rules laid down under Public Procurement. In layman’s terms: to catch a thief, this firm went out and hired a thief…so to speak.
So those who know what the game involves are successful. Those who don’t should hire someone who does – or else turn their heads in another direction.
Mind you, securing work via Public Procurement can expose one to certain other risks that many would prefer to avoid. There’s the complication of the Dáil question: “Could the Minister inform the House etc…?” Suddenly, one might find one’s name being bandied about in newspapers, TV and radio. Even in Dáil debates!
Next might come the complication of the official opening, or the site visit. “Delighted to meet you, Minister, we’re the firm that supplies the materials handling equipment,” you might gush. “Oh really? Where are you based? In my constituency! Excellent! What’s the value of the contract you have here? That’s interesting…very interesting.” Then might come the muffled whisper into the ear of an attentive aide. “Make a note of that chap’s name. We must get in touch with him later. He could be useful during our election campaign.”