Monday, 20 March 2017

Power, Corruption and Lies Part 2: DIT and Cultural Fit as an evaluation criteria

I don't want to be seen as regularly knocking the government, but another case has arisen that I think needs greater public scrutiny.

The Department for International Trade has advertised a low value tender (therefore not subject to the full weight of OJEU) that has as one of the award criteria 15% of marks for Cultural Fit - the others are Technical Competence 65% and Price 20%.

So we can see that Cultural fit is almost as important as price.  And we know that in practice the intangible element of culture can have a big impact on how a contract is actually carried out, so there is nothing wrong in principle with the idea.  But the question is of course, how are we defining Cultural Fit?  This could easily be a discriminatory question which would not be allowed ("you are from the North and don't fit into our Southern culture...")

In this case it is determined as;

  • Be focussed enough to stick to the task at hand and not be side-tracked in a vast and quick-moving field
  • Be committed and hard-working, to deliver under time pressures
  • Be enthused by the prospect of working at the frontline in such an exciting and dynamic area
  • Be committed to the best possible outcome for the United Kingdom following its departure from the European Union
Let's look at these.

Stick to the task - fair enough but rather a given I would have thought.
Be committed - as above. 
Be enthused - as above.   Can you imagine anyone bidding for this who was not enthused by the task?  They would simply not bid.  Likewise if they were not focussed, hard-working etc. then I cannot imagine they would admit that in their tender proposal.  I also find it hard to imagine how we might score these criteria.  Particularly as part of the process is a formal presentation - which is inevitably more subjective than a written proposal, and therefore potentially more open to challenge as not treating bidders equally.

The final point however is of course the real problem.  Be committed to the best possible outcome for the UK...  this sounds suspiciously like a political Brexit loyalty clause.  And therefore it stinks.  What if I believe the best possible post Brexit is to rejoin the EU forthwith?  Am I now excluded from winning?  This is a political vetting clause, and in no way fits with the requirement for non-discrimination.

I expect to see more of these "political loyalty" tests if this one is successful.  Why are they corruption?  Because it amounts to hiring suppliers that the minister likes, and fits his/her views rather than the best one for the job.  Which is classical government corruption.  No money needs to change hands - the minister benefits politically, and the UK taxpayer is not guaranteed best value for money.

A more elegant analysis of why this is illegal comes from Dr. Sanchez-Graellis of Bristol of University on his always interesting blog (well interesting to me)

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