A really bad carpenter blames the tools he did not use

Yesterday, Dominic Cummings made an appearance in the Commons to shoot in every direction bar himself. That in itself is not really surprising, but let's look at what he said about procurement:

“In spring 2020 you had a situation where the Department of Health was just a smoking ruin in terms of procurement and PPE and all of that. You had serious problems with the funding bureaucracy for therapeutics. We also had the EU proposal which looked like an absolute guaranteed programme to fail – a debacle,” he said."


"Cummings said the government’s procurement system was an “expensive disaster zone” before last year and it “completely fell over” when the pandemic struck."

As for EU vaccines, Tuesday’s blogpost covers what I feel to be the main reasons behind the current situation. It is more interesting however to focus instead about Cummings' claims on procurement in the UK side, both PPE and the ventilators (which he conveniently forgot to mention).

For both PPE and ventilators what happened was a complete short-circuiting of the usual procurement avenues. The Government (of which Cummings was part at the time) threw out the rulebook and effectively acted as if procurement rules were not applicable when they were.

Now, it is funny that someone who has advocated to burn procurement rules to the ground in the past suddenly rails against an example of what happens when those same rules are disregarded and forgets to mention a second one which seemed to be done in line with how he sees procurement.

Many PPE purchases last year were a disaster not because of procurement rules but because those rules were ignored. Here's a few examples of how this unfolded:

  • Creating channels for the well connected to sell their wares? Cannot happen under procurement rules
  • Buying from middlemen without zero experience in the field? Usually does not happen under procurement rules (a problem in itself for real startups)
  • Buying more than what was needed without competition? Hard to do when following procurement rules, although not impossible
  • Delaying publication of contract information to avoid accountability? Sadly, all too common even in normal times.

PPE was a disaster of epic proportions and for me that has more to do with how the rules were disregarded than the rules themselves.

But what about the ventilators which were spearheaded from No 10? Are we supposed to believe that the completely different approach to that of traditional procurement, similar to the way Cummings thinks procurement should be done somehow was done without Cummings involvement?

If you believe in that, let me know as I have a nice bridge to sell.