Monday, 15 January 2018

Carillion - public sector contracts

I am sure that there are going to be a lot of "hot takes" on Carillion going into administration.  It is too early for me to go into it in detail, but a couple of key points to think about.

1. Procurement has to look at Risk as well as price and cost - a consolidation of suppliers may lead to efficiencies but can also increase risk
2. Bigger is not necessarily safer than smaller.  Think also of Connaught and the hard work Serco have had to do to turn themselves round from a big operating loss.
3. Apart from banks no UK business is too big to fail.
4. Contract management is key for the public sector.  It ensures contractors cannot make up for underbidding by changes and variations
5. Buyers need to be very careful about possible underbidding (by SMEs and charities as well as big contractors) - companies need to make enough profit to ensure they survive when things go wrong.  And at some point they will.
6. Split supply may be safer, but less efficient
7. Privately owned companies are not perfect.  I know that is obvious, but it is not what we sometimes hear when we talk about private companies delivering public services.
8. Public sector contracts normally prevent suppliers from assigning contracts to third parties without the buyer's permission.  We hear the government as been ensuring that Carillion contracts can be easily passed on to a new contractor of our choice.  That is good news.
9. I would not expect many of Carillion's contracts to be re-tendered in the near future.  Short term continuity will take precedence over the need for competition.
10. This will look bad on the UK, as overseas contracts will also be thrown into disarray including work on the Qatar world cup which like all such projects is on a tight timetable.
11.Finally, spare a thought for the sub-contractors and suppliers.  They are likely not to be paid anything for a long time, and then be offered pennies on the pound.  It is likely some will go bust.  It is not their fault, nor (most) of Carillion's staff and I hope they manage to get through.

This is another major shock to Britain's construction industry (after the collusion prosecutions, and Connaught).  I hope it can bounce back quickly

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