The jubilee jobseekers – the commissioner’s head is on the block
There are clearly questions to be answered by the security company, Close Protection UK, as well as by the charity, Tomorrow’s People, regarding their respective roles in the use of unpaid people on work experience to deliver on a security contract for the weekend’s jubilee celebrations – and in the subsequent failure in their duty of care towards these ‘employees’. However, it is actually poor commissioning/procurement practice which allowed for all this to happen in the first place.
There are significant advantages to be had in the outsourcing of security for events like this. At a pragmatic level, it would not be possible to stand up the required short-term staffing without the contracting of multiple security firms. Outsourcing also enables a commercial focus, which the public sector’s systems and culture simply cannot provide in the same way. The private sector is driven to hunt out inefficiency and cut costs.
There are, however, three fundamental procurement principles which were evidently not considered by the commissioner of the weekend’s security:
Firstly, if you go to the market, you are running a big risk if you don’t have a reasonable understanding of what it is you want to buy and roughly how much that is likely to cost. You must not lose sight of commercial reality. The commissioner should, in the example of the jubilee jobseekers, have had a rough idea of how many staff were required, in what functions, with what qualifications, over what length of time. The commissioner needs a sense of the cost envelope. If a would-be contractor then offers to do it for half the price, alarm bells should ring and the proposed solution be rigorously tested. Perhaps the contractor does indeed have some whizzy new technology that is going to deliver remarkable efficiency. Or perhaps they are intending to cut some corners. Or maybe they plan on renegotiating the cost halfway through delivery.
Secondly, procuring the service through a third party does not diminish the commissioner’s duty of care. In accepting a delivery model for the weekend’s security that entailed bussing in staff from around the country, the commissioner had a responsibility to test contractors’ plans regarding the wellbeing of the staff in such a model. How long were the planned shifts? Were there adequate arrangements for breaks, with access to toilets? What was the nature of any overnight accommodation? Outsourcing is not the abdication of responsibility.
Finally, it is simply common sense to conduct some sort of due diligence on any potential contractor. To accept their promises blind is unacceptably risky. Due diligence should test the basic ‘roadworthiness’ of the business, assuring their legality, stability and capacity. The number of security companies supposedly opened and then closed over the last few years by the owner of Close Protection UK should appear high on a risk register and probably have excluded them from any contracts. Past performance must also be considered. If the contractor has failed to deliver on commitments in successive previous contracts, in performance or quality, then it is likely they will do so again.