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Government supplier watchdogs 'more Johnny English than James Bond'

Johnny English

MPs investigating the collapse of Carillion have claimed that the watchdogs appointed to monitor government contracts are “more Johnny English than James Bond”.

The Work and Pensions and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committees have held a joint inquiry into the collapse of Carillion in January. It criticised the effectiveness of the government’s Crown Representatives in flagging the Carillion-held contracts at risk. Crown Representatives are senior, board level executives who help manage the government’s relationships with its supply chain.

The Inquiry’s final report claimed that the current system of monitoring suppliers was not able to identify or prevent the impact of Carillion’s collapse – particularly as there was not a Crown Representative assigned to Carillion between August and November 2017.

The Cabinet office said in its letter responding to the Inquiry’s report: “The temporary vacancy for Crown Representative to Carillion during three months in 2017 did not compromise our ability to recognise Carillion’s problems and construct an appropriate response.

“While no Crown Representative was in place, the government chief commercial officer and director of markets and suppliers in the Cabinet Office oversaw the relationship with Carillion themselves.”

But committee chair Frank Field MP said the response “perfectly illustrates” what he claimed was the complacency that got the contracts into the mess.

He said: “The picture the Cabinet Secretary paints of our Crown Representatives is more Johnny English than James Bond, instilling little confidence in their ability or capacity to defend the public interest in the multi-billion pound world of government outsourcing.”

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee chair Rachel Reeves added: “The Cabinet Office told us that Crown Representatives are an important part of how it deals with the businesses that supplies it. They also told us the absence of a Crown Representative for the stricken Carillion wasn’t a problem. Both of these things cannot be true at the same time. The reality must be that either the Crown Representative system failed for Carillion or it has never worked at all. Whichever is true, the Government urgently needs to tackle the central issue which is to get a grip on its suppliers and protect the interest of taxpayers and those who rely on these businesses.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson told New Civil Engineer: “Crown representatives are chosen for their industry expertise and work closely with our commercial specialists who monitor the performance of suppliers. When Carillion collapsed, our approach to managing suppliers successfully ensured the continuation of public services and secured thousands of jobs.”

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