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A gentle sob at the Tory Big Lie; and grumblings from business re procurement not keeping up with change

Posted on 19 January 2012 | 3:01pm

To a conference of software suppliers organised by Opentext, where ex civil servant Jonathan Portes and I were the keynote speakers. Jonathan now runs the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and gave a relatively upbeat assessment (I emphasise the relatively) of the economic future.

Among his graphs was one which had the Labour activist in me giving a little internal sob. It showed the relative economic performance of the UK, the US, France and Germany, and as I looked at the 1997-2010 markings along the bottom, I quickly saw that on the measurements he was using, the UK started behind and ended up ahead. So why the sob? Because it underlined once more that whilst we were busy electing a new leader in the wake of election defeat, the Tories and the Lib Dems were successfully telling a Big Lie about recent history – namely that Labour failed on the economy.

They still tell it of course, and still use it to justify all manner of cuts and changes for which they have little or no specific mandate; and still we don’t push back hard on it enough. Even I, tribal and unafraid of a bit of argument as I am, let Jonathan’s graph pass when I got up to do my own presentation, in which I tried to apply some of the strategic lessons we learned in good times to businesses and other big organisations now operating in less good times.

Jonathan also said that whilst income inequality was now a huge issue among the public, the use of the tax and benefits system to rebalance it was no longer politically sustainable. I’m not so sure about that. I was able to point to some of the research in The Happy Depressive, which suggests that the best way to extend the greatest happiness to the largest numbers of people is indeed for governments to take active steps to close that gap; which is why I was not dismissive of David Cameron embracing the ‘happiness agenda’, because I think if he is serious, he will realise he has to do exactly that.

As at so many business events these days, fair to say the jury was out on both the PM and the Chancellor, George Osborne. But one thing I did hear, loud and clear, again and again, was that we did not have a public procurement policy fit for purpose in a modern age defined by the velocity of change.

I was able to tell them that just as they are frustrated by the slowness of it all  – one man told me he won a tender for a government contract but by the time he had done so, the system he was selling had already been overtaken by a new and better one – then so are ministers. Or at least Labour ministers were. And I imagine Tory/LibDem ministers are too. Or if the mood at today’s meeting is anything to go by, they should be. One of the delegates said ‘the government is absolutely brilliant at procuring the wrong things; they follow their processes really really well, but so often end up taking the wrong decision and incurring unneeded cost.’

As the government takes an axe to large swathes of the public sector, including among the higher echelons, gaps in service delivery will emerge, and there will be openings for private sector solutions. You might imagine that is exactly how the Tories planned it. But that is not how their suppliers seem to see it. ‘Muddling along’ will be even harder with fewer muddlers to muddle. But there was definitely a feeling they were still muddling.

Ps — a footnote on the enivronment … The conference was held at the National Liberal Club. Does it still have a connection with the Liberal Party (as in today’s Lib Dems)? If so, I really do not think it is environmentally friendly to have individual fluffy hand towels for everyone who makes a trip to the gents’. Only sayin’

  • Md0u8370

    I agree. The spin doctor in you must have winced at Ed Milliband’s relaunch: I no longer have clue what Labour policy is re the most important issue of our time – the economy! Do they support all the cuts by not reversing them as Ed Balls seems to suggest? If so what is the point of a labour government and moreover why does EM habitually oppose all cuts? Should they not be talking about growth and jobs rather than vindicating the government’s position. Surely there is no point having a good product if the salesman is not doing his job!

  • Richard

    With the New Labour government track record of procurement a standing joke, from helicopters to computer systems, I am surprised you are climbing on this bandwagon.
    And as for “one man told me he won a tender for a government contract but by the time he had done so, the system he was selling had already been overtaken by a new and better one”, some tax payers might say that the delay provided a better system and that your support for the salesman whingeing that he was unable to offload something going out of date is quite odd!

    • Chris lancashire

      Don’t worry Richard, this is all part of Mr Campbell’s rewriting of history. The two aircraft carriers, the disaster which is the NHS computer system, the Brown splurge on benefits, the £7bn loss on Gordo’s gold sale, the £40bn a year interest bill on all of this – all conveniently airbrushed from history.
      Except it’s not. Is it Mr Campbell?

  • Ehtch

    As Norbert Parkinson said with his law, there is only lies, damned lies, and statistics. Think Norbert was his first name, but I might be wrong, but anyway, the torys are lying twats, it has to be said, and the UK became a better place to live in from it’s 1997-2010 governmental experience, even whatever these tory potato heads are trying to brainwash us of recent past history to their bent crap they would like us to think and remember. Good music too in this period, and sport, even in combination, as Hayley the rugger loving Kiwi here in Ireland with Celtic Woman,
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_45W-Lq7ftw

    • Ehtch

      by the way, mentioned Ireland because hard work was done to make that better, which as a welshman growing up broke my heart to see, and Sergeant Winkler who I played footie with in Tumble when younger got blown up by a planted bomb underneath his Sherpa minibus with his mates after a charity run – ACH, song for Steve, dad was a german pow over here, who decided to live here and took a welsh wife, but whatever. Reverse psychology song again for my irish friends,
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=au30c9ZMIPg

  • KDouglas

    God, what’s really depressing is that the jury should be ‘out’ on Cameron and Osborne in business circles.  Can they really be that ambivalent?

  • Anonymous

    For sure there is more to happiness and equality than economic equality. If you make everyone economically equal – they’re still not equal. That is one reason why socialism can never work, and in fact American right wingers have more chance of creating an “equal” society.

    As for procurement… total joke. I worked for contractors who had been “procured” by the public sector and the whole thing was an absolute joke, mainly due to Gordon Brown.

    Yes Alastair there are metrics by which labour came out better in 2010 than in 1997. They could have been better still but for two catastrophic events – the financial crash and the election of Gordon Brown.

    For most people, Tony Blairs bad points overrule his good points (ie the Iraq war, or immigration and public sector explosion depending on your persuasion) but his achievements shouldn’t be dismissed if a fair discussion is to be had.

  • Michele

    As usual Richard you have indulged in absorbing only selectively.

    One would think you haven’t even read past the words you seized upon.

  • Joe

    I think, Richard, you may be confused. I read Alastair’s ‘one man’s’ complaint as that he HAD sold an out-of-date system, not that he hadn’t.

  • Michele

    How much debt inherited from the Tories did the gold clear in 1997?

    How many companies were saved or started and how many people were put back in to work?

    How many of us became immediately better off with lower interest rates (were you a mortgagee when rates were 18%?).

    The same old boring chorus is tiresome.  I’ll await yet another post about EU rebate ….. yawn.

  • Libdem

    And hopefully, you can wait for another 15 years before your party is ever re-elected with the 2 dreadfuls in the box seats.

    The economy wasn’t too bad in 1997 and still your prince GB managed to cock it up, the same old story when it comes to Labour Chancellors isn’t it?

  • Michele

    Phwoar and corrrrrr, got your mojo back Libdem?

    My heart is thumping, truly.

  • Michele

    I’ve been in procurement for decades, working within quotas (seen some go around them, bringing goods in via 3rd countries etc), around duty changes, currency fluctuations, in commodities with a max of 15m between concept to delivery.
    I can’t imagine what it is like in such difficult-already work when at any time and with little to do with the item’s necessity or quality orders could be cancelled for political reasons (and manufacturers be left in the lurch and determined to get compensated asap) and, in the end, as a civil servant cop the blame from all sides.
    We’re human; I’m sure procurement depts’ lack of real control must lead to low morale and loss of excitement and the latter is essential for product development.

    Tangent: what is all this spite about a knighthood bestowed 4yrs before a bank needed to be rescued? 

  • Libdem

    Must be the first time you haven’t disagreed with me Michele…..

  • Anonymous

    Interesting. What sort of procurement Michele? Software or actual “stuff”?

    Re knighthood, think someone (dunno who) thinks it would be good to make symbolic gesture of taking Fred the Shred’s “Sir” off him. Personally I’d be more concerned about taking the money back but hey. Along with the other bailout money, especially if used for bonuses. Surely thats an open goal for Ed and his “predators”, “responsible capitalism” agenda.

  • Ehtch

    These arguements have been going on since the Concorde was chosen instead of the TSR2 for spending in the 1960′s. What can any government do if civil servants can do their job properly, and are out of their depth? There is only so many hours in a day for politicians in Westminster. These civil servants to lose control of precurements would be sacked on the spot if they worked in the private sector. And the pensions they get at the end of it all when they retire is astounding.

  • Ehtch

    edit – got his first name wrong there, Mike it was.

  • Reaguns

    £7bn loss on the gold sale? Joking aren’t you – a very conservative estimate would put it at double that, even by today’s prices which are in a temporary dip.

  • Reaguns

    £7bn loss on the gold sale? Joking aren’t you – a very conservative estimate would put it at double that, even by today’s prices which are in a temporary dip.

  • Reaguns

    Come off it Michele. I like your thinking and reasoning normally, even if I disagree a lot, but selling the gold is totally indefensible, even if he hadn’t sold it at $275 an ounce. Its now worth approx $1600 an ounce and if the US, UK and Eurozone continue with their idiotic inflationary economics, the sky’s the limit with the gold price. Unless we get another honest politician in charge like Ronald Reagan, then the gold price will drop like it did under his leadership. But there ain’t no Ronald Reagans on the horizon.

    The money Gordo lost on Gold would be enough to turn any of the thatcher or major deficits into a surplus. Of course it wouldn’t put a dent in a new labour or cameron size deficit.

  • Reaguns

    Come off it Michele. I like your thinking and reasoning normally, even if I disagree a lot, but selling the gold is totally indefensible, even if he hadn’t sold it at $275 an ounce. Its now worth approx $1600 an ounce and if the US, UK and Eurozone continue with their idiotic inflationary economics, the sky’s the limit with the gold price. Unless we get another honest politician in charge like Ronald Reagan, then the gold price will drop like it did under his leadership. But there ain’t no Ronald Reagans on the horizon.

    The money Gordo lost on Gold would be enough to turn any of the thatcher or major deficits into a surplus. Of course it wouldn’t put a dent in a new labour or cameron size deficit.

  • Ehtch

    and England can only manage to win a World Cup under a Labour Government, footie or rugger, ’66 and 2003, don’t you know. There must be a hidden message in that, somewhere… Yes, kick the torys in the goolies where it hurts. : )

  • Ehtch

    and England can only manage to win a World Cup under a Labour Government, footie or rugger, ’66 and 2003, don’t you know. There must be a hidden message in that, somewhere… Yes, kick the torys in the goolies where it hurts. : )

  • Michele

    From sourcing raw materials to developing finished goods R; very technical and nothing to be wasted by either end but nothing like as important or skilled as sourcing armaments or drugs/NHS equipment or food or IT items.

    ‘Services to banking’ sounded a tad off at the time but there we are it happened.  Who knows, perhaps it gave him too much influence and led to what followed but big but – we had already had to let in American banks offering ‘services’ such as mortgages for buy-to-let and there was no way but to allow British banks to do the same.  I don’t think that if GWB had done the same with Lehman Bros as GB with NR/TBS etc we’d be where we are now … post-crash but who knows, if he had he might still be in the White House  aaaaaagh.

  • Michele

    From sourcing raw materials to developing finished goods R; very technical and nothing to be wasted by either end but nothing like as important or skilled as sourcing armaments or drugs/NHS equipment or food or IT items.

    ‘Services to banking’ sounded a tad off at the time but there we are it happened.  Who knows, perhaps it gave him too much influence and led to what followed but big but – we had already had to let in American banks offering ‘services’ such as mortgages for buy-to-let and there was no way but to allow British banks to do the same.  I don’t think that if GWB had done the same with Lehman Bros as GB with NR/TBS etc we’d be where we are now … post-crash but who knows, if he had he might still be in the White House  aaaaaagh.

  • Michele

    Make your mind up Libdem.  The badge you wear could not have been chosen
    to gain you respect from either left or right anywhere but choose it
    you did; live with what it brings.
    You did what always makes me think
    of Scarlet O’Hara yesterday and actually posted (wah wah wah) that you
    were not going to post to me again boo hoo as YOU said I distort your
    evewy word. 
    If you see the post as any sort of agreement with you I could do a hoops and ringlets act at you re your distortion but am not so babbyish.
    Off to see whether you’ve advised whether there IS any nouse behind your ‘opinions’ about education or they were all gleaned from the Wail etc.
    I almost feel like making a bet.

  • Michele

    Make your mind up Libdem.  The badge you wear could not have been chosen
    to gain you respect from either left or right anywhere but choose it
    you did; live with what it brings.
    You did what always makes me think
    of Scarlet O’Hara yesterday and actually posted (wah wah wah) that you
    were not going to post to me again boo hoo as YOU said I distort your
    evewy word. 
    If you see the post as any sort of agreement with you I could do a hoops and ringlets act at you re your distortion but am not so babbyish.
    Off to see whether you’ve advised whether there IS any nouse behind your ‘opinions’ about education or they were all gleaned from the Wail etc.
    I almost feel like making a bet.

  • Michele

    There are always going to be protests about blame when an order goes bad.
    You chose/choose to believe what you were told.
    It suited your predicament to do so.
    There are always reasons why a situation cannot be retrieved and there’s usually responsibility on both sides (if not directly then down the supply chain and in GB’s case that would include elections).

    As to your pronouncement about MrB, the whole world owes him for bringing about the G20 meetings.
    I doubt you care to pronounce about the world would be today without the examples he set.

  • Michele

    There are always going to be protests about blame when an order goes bad.
    You chose/choose to believe what you were told.
    It suited your predicament to do so.
    There are always reasons why a situation cannot be retrieved and there’s usually responsibility on both sides (if not directly then down the supply chain and in GB’s case that would include elections).

    As to your pronouncement about MrB, the whole world owes him for bringing about the G20 meetings.
    I doubt you care to pronounce about the world would be today without the examples he set.

  • Ehtch

    Intersting news article here just posted by The Guardian. Not to say I am surprised – our cop force is a little out of control since they were set up as Thatchers Army by her in the 1980′s. As a set up, they turn my fecking guts these days,
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jan/20/undercover-police-children-activists
    The way they run around in their cop cars is a disgrace – there is the local cop station down the road from me, and the way they scream past our house lights going and sirens screaming, you could sware you were living in downtown Manhhatan. They’re institutional lunatics they are, totally.

  • Ehtch

    Intersting news article here just posted by The Guardian. Not to say I am surprised – our cop force is a little out of control since they were set up as Thatchers Army by her in the 1980′s. As a set up, they turn my fecking guts these days,
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jan/20/undercover-police-children-activists
    The way they run around in their cop cars is a disgrace – there is the local cop station down the road from me, and the way they scream past our house lights going and sirens screaming, you could sware you were living in downtown Manhhatan. They’re institutional lunatics they are, totally.

  • ZintinW4

    My point about the Labour Party leadership accepting the ConDem cuts programme is that it gives cover to the argument that this ‘mess’ was all Labour’s fault. Furthermore there is huge evidence that the QE undertaken by the Brown Govt helped to head off a recession but the Tories just won’t accept that their greedy friends in the city and on Wall St are the main reason why we are in this mess.

    As for public sector procurement my main gripe is that it excludes sole traders and the like. Having run my own consultancy in the past I lost track of the number of projects I didn’t bid for because the tenedering process was too cumbersome and half the questions asked were nonsensical.

  • ZintinW4

    My point about the Labour Party leadership accepting the ConDem cuts programme is that it gives cover to the argument that this ‘mess’ was all Labour’s fault. Furthermore there is huge evidence that the QE undertaken by the Brown Govt helped to head off a recession but the Tories just won’t accept that their greedy friends in the city and on Wall St are the main reason why we are in this mess.

    As for public sector procurement my main gripe is that it excludes sole traders and the like. Having run my own consultancy in the past I lost track of the number of projects I didn’t bid for because the tenedering process was too cumbersome and half the questions asked were nonsensical.

  • Janiete

    I am sure your dismay at the big fat Tory lie on the economy is shared by all Labour members and supporters across the country. The distraction of our leadership election no doubt contributed to months of dishonesty which went relatively unchallenged. However, lets not kid ourselves, the lies would have been peddled by the Government and its supporters in the media anyway. The prevalence of (right-wing) comment and absence of fact and detail would have ensured public ignorance about the causes of the economic crash and therefore the deficit. As time goes by, and people reflect on the worsening economic situation caused by Tory policies, some truths may begin to dawn. Anyone who is angry about waste of public funds might well ask how come the chancellor now admits to missing his deficit elimination target of 2015 and why instead we are on target to borrow an additional £158 billion at current estimates.
     
    I also wonder how lack of truth and detail links in to your other concern on public sector procurement failings. It may be true that the public sector makes more mistakes in purchasing services than the private sector, but if human error is at the root of it, then it won’t be. No one reports failures of this sort in the private sector and it’s relatively easy for companies to hide their mistakes and to pass on their wastefulness in higher prices. If the private sector was scrutinized with the same enthusiasm, I suspect a lot of horrors would be uncovered.
     
    The economic crash was a monumental failure of the capitalist system and demonstrated what happens when governments stay out of the way and leave the free market to its own devices. People who previously had little interest in political matters are starting to question the wisdom of minimal regulation and scrutiny. It’s not surprising then that those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo are straining every sinew to flood the airwaves and print media with a pro free market narrative. The notion that the tax and benefit system is no longer an acceptable way to address social ills is part of that narrative.  
     
    We have to remember the good that can be done by governments who care for the majority of the population rather than for a privileged few. The Labour government achieved a great deal in our thirteen years of power.  Of course we made some mistakes, all governments do, but provision in health, crime and education, three major areas particularly neglected by previous Tory governments, were greatly improved by the time we left power in 2010. As cuts to desirable and even vital services bite, our precious NHS is handed to companies more interested in profit than health, unemployment soars and people lose confidence in the future, they will turn back to those who offer alternatives to ‘survival of the fittest’ politics.
     

  • Janiete

    I am sure your dismay at the big fat Tory lie on the economy is shared by all Labour members and supporters across the country. The distraction of our leadership election no doubt contributed to months of dishonesty which went relatively unchallenged. However, lets not kid ourselves, the lies would have been peddled by the Government and its supporters in the media anyway. The prevalence of (right-wing) comment and absence of fact and detail would have ensured public ignorance about the causes of the economic crash and therefore the deficit. As time goes by, and people reflect on the worsening economic situation caused by Tory policies, some truths may begin to dawn. Anyone who is angry about waste of public funds might well ask how come the chancellor now admits to missing his deficit elimination target of 2015 and why instead we are on target to borrow an additional £158 billion at current estimates.
     
    I also wonder how lack of truth and detail links in to your other concern on public sector procurement failings. It may be true that the public sector makes more mistakes in purchasing services than the private sector, but if human error is at the root of it, then it won’t be. No one reports failures of this sort in the private sector and it’s relatively easy for companies to hide their mistakes and to pass on their wastefulness in higher prices. If the private sector was scrutinized with the same enthusiasm, I suspect a lot of horrors would be uncovered.
     
    The economic crash was a monumental failure of the capitalist system and demonstrated what happens when governments stay out of the way and leave the free market to its own devices. People who previously had little interest in political matters are starting to question the wisdom of minimal regulation and scrutiny. It’s not surprising then that those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo are straining every sinew to flood the airwaves and print media with a pro free market narrative. The notion that the tax and benefit system is no longer an acceptable way to address social ills is part of that narrative.  
     
    We have to remember the good that can be done by governments who care for the majority of the population rather than for a privileged few. The Labour government achieved a great deal in our thirteen years of power.  Of course we made some mistakes, all governments do, but provision in health, crime and education, three major areas particularly neglected by previous Tory governments, were greatly improved by the time we left power in 2010. As cuts to desirable and even vital services bite, our precious NHS is handed to companies more interested in profit than health, unemployment soars and people lose confidence in the future, they will turn back to those who offer alternatives to ‘survival of the fittest’ politics.
     

  • Anonymous

    Can’t believe I almost let this one slide. What are these measures by which Uk did better than France, US et al?

    It certainly wasn’t national debt, on which labour did absolutely do a terrible job, not due to the financial crisis but before that.
    Anyone know what the deficit was (let alone the debt) before and after the financial crisis? Financial crisis was not the significant cause of the deficit – Labour was.

    (If you ever want a laugh, watch “Britain’s Trillion Pound Horror Story” and watch as hardly any politician can tell Martin Durkin what the national debt is. Most say they don’t know, or try to cite the deficit figure instead and usually wrongly!)

    I blame Brown and Balls. Tony Blair has denounced their Keynesian approach. Keynes would denounce it too. He believe in running surpluses in good times so you had money to run deficits in bad times.

    What I suspect its about is employment. Irwin Stelzer, an admirer of Brown, Balls and Blair from the right, congratulated them on the extra jobs they created in that time compared to the more socialist Germany and France.

  • Anonymous

    Can’t believe I almost let this one slide. What are these measures by which Uk did better than France, US et al?

    It certainly wasn’t national debt, on which labour did absolutely do a terrible job, not due to the financial crisis but before that.
    Anyone know what the deficit was (let alone the debt) before and after the financial crisis? Financial crisis was not the significant cause of the deficit – Labour was.

    (If you ever want a laugh, watch “Britain’s Trillion Pound Horror Story” and watch as hardly any politician can tell Martin Durkin what the national debt is. Most say they don’t know, or try to cite the deficit figure instead and usually wrongly!)

    I blame Brown and Balls. Tony Blair has denounced their Keynesian approach. Keynes would denounce it too. He believe in running surpluses in good times so you had money to run deficits in bad times.

    What I suspect its about is employment. Irwin Stelzer, an admirer of Brown, Balls and Blair from the right, congratulated them on the extra jobs they created in that time compared to the more socialist Germany and France.

  • Anonymous

    “The economic crash was a monumental failure of the capitalist system and demonstrated what happens when governments stay out of the way and leave the free market to its own devices.”

    Just not true, the financial crisis was caused by:
    1. Deposit insurance (which guarantees government bailouts to banks – moral hazard – anti-capitalist in the extreme.)
    2. Low interest rates (Fed and BOE – very definitely not free market or capitalist)
    3. Government programs to get people to buy houses (Community Investment Act by Clinton, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, etc)

    I’m not blaming any political party – on the above 3 things there had been a longstanding consensus followe by conservatives, republicans, democrats and labour.
    Very harsh to blame it on capitalism, but then thats the new consensus.

    Re your point on private sector procurement, thank you I think that is a very good point. They make procurement mistakes too.

  • Michele

    Oh for heaven’s sake; who knew in 1997 what bloody (literally) gold would be worth now and who knows how much bloddy interest we’d have been paying on ’97′s debts right up till now if they’d not been cleared.

    We are where we are, there’s little point in rambling on about what happened over a decade ago when plainly some of us simply haven’t been either interested enough or around long enough to have felt and experienced it.

  • Michele

    You’d better go write your own book R as well as correct Wiki – just imagine all those kids doing their homework from info and figures so different to yours.

  • Anonymous

    Many economists at the time said selling gold was wrong. In a world of fiat currency and inflation it was always going to increase in value. Noone predicted the exact value but they said it would increase more than bonds, currencies, so the interest paid off on debt would not counter the effect of gold price rise.

    I don’t think they paid off any debt with gold anyway did they? They used the proceeds to buy foreign currency.

    I’m glad that while we have stupid governments, we also have a system whereby we can bet against them and profit from them. I’d prefer to profit from good governments but hey.

  • Anonymous

    They aren’t my figures, and other people have already written the necessary books.

    P.s. Tony Blair doesn’t agree with Brown/Balls/Keynesian/Statist economics either.

  • Michele

    Why are you (and why are so many published commentators) so selective about what they report?

    The price of gold had been plummeting for months, many nations east and west were selling and the price continued falling after SOME of ours was sold.

    Go look up what debts were cleared and think about how the proceeds plus  saved interest were invested (which is not the same as spent).

  • Anonymous

    I could explain fully why selling the gold was stupid, but I suspect you don’t want me to. Using it pay off debt would have been stupid, but they didn’t use it to pay off debt anyway.

    Ron Paul (current US presidential candidate) made a fortune by buying gold, which is effectively betting against the US dollar, the Euro, the pound, and their governments.

    Him and his advisers and the economic school he follows, state the policies that they want governments to follow so that they can invest in the dollar and in US companies instead, then they state how they are going to profit if the US does the wrong things, which obviously under the indecipherable Bush and Obama is a dead cert.

    They advised against investing in certain countries and currencies, and of course property. And advised for investing in other countries, commodities, currencies.Some of us have been very grateful for their advice :)But wish we had more capital to commit :(