You see, in that article I explained how our competitors had been whittled away in the past seven or eight years. Where there used to be around 120 of us battling for the opportunities from public sector contracts, at time of writing last April it was down to just under 40. We were successful in being accepted for that particular framework, but things have moved on somewhat since.
In what, at times, resembles a game of oneupmanship, a different authority re-tendered their available work in our field ... with even more administrative pre-qualification than that described, at the back end of last year.
This time, incredibly, it demanded a submission of nearly 10,000 words, which took me six full days to compose, along with comprehensive vehicle listings; profiles of all staff, along with full CVs in certain cases; and a pricing structure questionnaire running to five A4 pages. This, for an industry populated mostly by industrious working class people not adept at understanding, let alone regurgitating, middle class Sir Humphrey-speak.
Again, it would seem that many of our competitors have thrown their hands in the air and walked away from the whole process (I can tell you that there were times when our own office urged me to do the same). We ploughed on though and, from what we can gather, our competition has now been whittled down by a further 40% or thereabouts.
We thought that would be it, but oh no. Word has reached us that 'presentations' have been hastily arranged for the surviving short-listed firms, with just two days to compile them. We are expected to present - for 40 minutes including Q&A - exactly the same information I spent a week and a bit detailing in shark-jumping detail at the turn of the year. It's like they read all the reams of paperwork and said "Yes, very good. Now, tell us it all again over tea and biscuits.". Fortunately, we are large enough to devote one person's time - muggins's - exclusively to this hoop-jumping exercise, but others have no such luxury even if they were willing and able. There's the small matter of them actually performing the paying employment which keeps their businesses alive, you see.
Remember, there is still not a penny of work on the table yet. This is all just to be placed on a framework agreement for the opportunity to bid.
Anyway, I suppose that's a round about way of telling you that there might not be much content here in the next two or three days, as I'll be busy building an entirely unnecessary Powerpoint slide show to justify the budgets of the concerned authority's procurement division. While I enjoy writing in all kinds of settings, I'm afraid priority goes to doing so where I have the chance of being paid, and that ain't here.
Oh, silly me, I nearly forgot to mention. The said procurement division, as I understand it from someone who retired from there last year, used to comprise 12 staff. They now boast 75.
Still, there are upsides to all this effort, though not for the taxpayer natch. Firstly, there was certainly more wriggle room when it came to pricing this lot up, there being a big drop in competition and all. And one question required of the presentation is dead easy to address, that of our ability to bring in staff to cope with the extra demand. The constant stream of applicants through our doors - from former competitors losing work the whole process inflicts on them - means we won't even have to spend anything on recruitment advertising.
I can only finish with the same denouement as last time.
Remember, our industry is just one small part of public sector outsourcing. Every supplier, in every field, is being put through this.Sadly, this is the big problem. Whereas the rules on competitive tendering were designed to empower the little guy in providing a service to drag costs down amongst the bigger players, burgeoning administrative demands - through red tape handed down in so many areas it would require a new article just to list them all - means that the public sector is profiting at the expense of efficiency and increased savings to the taxpayer.
Competitive tendering is supposed to act against monopolies and cartels, yet EU legislation is actively encouraging them in every town hall up and down the UK.
It's never been better to be a big fish, and never been worse to be a small one trying to get a first fin on the success ladder. Fortunately, the government are furiously working on the problem, as their incredibly busy Red Tape Challenge Twitter feed shows.