Good suppliers deserve good references

I’ve never really used the blog to let off steam before. But bloody hell, there is something about OJEU procurement processes that creates steam quite nicely. I’m part-way through a live procurement, so I can’t go into much detail. In summary, as one way to reduce the paperwork required from suppliers we wanted to assign more weight to references. But some of the referees listed refused to give a reference. Such blinkered stupidity is beyond my comprehension. Let me explain why. 

In our bit of local government, the work we want to buy is sometimes difficult to specify. It might be genuinely new, or difficult to define as “done” or “not done” – unlike a bin which is “emptied” or “not emptied”. It often contributes towards a greater endeavour, with a far-off evaluation.

And to be clear, there are good and bad suppliers. No matter how much you worry about the PQQ, ITT, interview or contract you will (on occasion) find yourself trying to work with the clueless. It is a myth that all private companies are customer-centric in a way that public organisations aren’t. We’ve done enough survey work with local authorities to know that most of them feel let down by their ICT suppliers and about half the consultancies they worth with.

We need the qualitative feedback of a reference more than anyone else. So, to refuse giving garbage reasons like “[our organisation] does not provide references to support individual contractors because of our need to remain impartial at all times“. WTF ?. “It is Welsh Government policy not to provide an opinion on the performance of a recent supplier“. Seriously, WTF ? You are spending public money, and you should have the cojones to have an opinion about how well it went. If you refuse to have an opinion, then you remove your way of giving a bad reference. Ask me about someone I think is great and I’ll tell you all about it. Ask me about someone who is a nightmare and I will confirm the dates and title.

You can see what happens when references are ill considered at trip advisor and its friends. If I fail to tell a supplier that they are not performing the work as I want it, and then rubbish them in a reference it’s not fair. And the whole process could be made fairer by all public sector works being held in a list so companies couldn’t pick the 2 good referees and ignore the 10 bad. And a cherry on the cake would be for us all to be a bit more grown up around the whole “stuff doesn’t always work out and that’s just the way it has to be sometimes” reality, rather than being risk-averse arse-coverers.

I can’t pretend completing reference requests is fun, or what you went to college for.  But we in local govt need to play more like a team. So the next time you have a good experience with a supplier encourage them to use you as a referee. It’s like giving blood – you may not directly feel the benefit but someone you love will sometime. Yes, it is an effort. But good suppliers are worth it.


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