Comment: Less haste, more clarity for ChangeUp

Some years ago a clip did the rounds on the internet in which a BT telesales assistant phoned a client.

Nick Seddon
Nick Seddon

"So, madam, how do you find BT's service?" "Service," she screeched, "service?!" And the fusillade of obscenities that followed is unprintable. It was very funny, and the truth is that even the dullest subjects become interesting when people are irritated by them.

Talking of dull, Capacitybuilders, which has announced an increase in grant funding to £30m, takes as its name one of the most prosaic coinages imaginable. But in tendering for new contracts for its national infrastructure programme, ChangeUp, there have been yowls of muffled outrage about its handling of the process, characterised by a curious mix of haste and hesitancy.

On the haste side, Capacitybuilders received pitches for the nine national support services on 7 November and presented recommendations to its board on 19 November, allowing just seven working days to analyse the proposals. Assuming eight uninterrupted hours in a typical working day, that's 56 hours per person. With six people on the grants team, that's 336 hours to process 123 forms - or just less than three hours per form. What, I wonder, is the ratio of average completion time for applicants to the amoun t of time spent judging?

As for hesitancy, indecision lingers over a couple of the streams where Capacitybuilders does not seem to have been clear about what it wanted. Indeed, in the words of its chief executive, Simon Hebditch, there's "need for more clarity around focus and priorities". Not so consoling for anxious bidders. Of course, if there's a market for contracts, competing in that market carries risks, with the potential loss of charitable time and funds for unsuccessful applicants. Perhaps more realism is required from applicants - commissioners are in the unenviable position of being loathed by the unlucky, whose gripes may be simple sour grapes. What with the need for more sector skills in procurement, bidding and contract management, this could almost have warranted a stream all of its own.

Not that this absolves Capacitybuilders of the duty to be competent. Perhaps it could have done with some contracting lessons itself.

- Nick Seddon is an author and journalist: nptseddon@hotmail.com.

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