How do you write a tender and appoint a bidder when you know nothing about the subject yourself?

Argyll and Bute Council has just delivered a typical misaligned appointment in the award of a £20k tender for a consultant to deliver ‘a strategic action plan for the heritage, arts, culture and tourism sector in Argyll.’

The tender brief is as elastic an all-embracing piece of waffle as you could conjure if you were a satirist – and if you looked at what it optimistically hopes to get for its money, you realise just how little understanding anyone at the council has of the nature of culture and of its role in society.

Being ignorant is, to a degree, beyond one’s personal control. It lies at various points on an axis of opportunity and interest. The council is to be commended for realising that there is a serious gap in its strategic provision for Argyll; and for trying to do the best they could to address this.

However, if you know nothing yourself, it is an obvious imperative that you appoint someone who knows what you do not.

In this case the council has laboured and spent to produce a perfectly vacuous initiative.

Knowing nothing of the nature of the issues concerned, the Council – aided and abetted by joint funder HIE –  has selected a bidder who equally has no given knowledge, expertise or experience of the cultural sector; and no evident track record of work in it.

Moreover, they do not appear to have any serious knowledge of Argyll – and this is not a place like anywhere else.

We have no knowledge of the shortlist for the tender but it is unimaginable that there were not capable, experienced and informed alternatives for so complex and specific a job.

The full brief for the tender is here – and the ‘Total quantity or scope of tender’ section [under ‘Full Notice Text’] contains no more than a repetition of the three paragraphs of the brief Introduction. And as for ‘Further Info’…

A more inept and less adequate guidance for bidders would be hard to find but hey, it’s only public money.

Below is the ‘Introduction’ to the job – which remains the only substantive information for potential bidders. It’s supposed to be an ‘Abstract’ [from what?[ and it is certainly everything that word calls up.

‘Argyll and Bute Council is seeking to appoint a consultant or consortium to deliver a strategic action plan for the heritage, arts, culture and tourism sector in Argyll.
‘This will be achieved through effective collaborative working with a wide range of stakeholders in the cultural sector in Argyll and partners at a national and local level, linking the valuable work they carry out with the current public sector strategies for the sector.
‘This work will help to gain full engagement from relevant stakeholders and articulate the sector’s ambitions for creativity in Argyll. In addition the action plan will articulate the economic contribution of the arts, heritage, culture and creative industries in Argyll including the potential increase in cultural tourism.’

What the successful bidder delivers in response to this will make entertaining reading somewhere down the line.

Ah yes, the successful bidder.

That is  ‘Business Tourism Solutions‘ based in Edinburgh.

Look at their website, linked above and see what they say about themselves.

Read the details on each of the photographed company team and then on the listed specialists they call upon as and when.

Not one of them has any background in the arts, culture or heritage – three quarters of the four areas of expertise harnessed into a single brief.

Together they do summon a profile to approach a tourism-focused consultancy, which covers 25% of the field of the brief.

The information on available personnel provides a clue as to how this appointment has come about. One of the ‘as and when’ specialists is Sue Crossman, who, if memory serves us right, presented to an early Argyll and the Isles Tourism Summit in the gloom of the Corran Halls in Oban.

This event was effectively run by Argyll and Bute Council; and Sue Crosman’s presentation on Tourism Intelligence Scotland [for which she works] – a superb resource – was, to us at least, the most interesting element of the event.

This would suggest that the drowning know-nots of the council grabbed onto the life raft of someone they had seen at work and whose expertise centred on the least ethereal of the four subjects in the brief – tourism.

That’s practical – but added to the nature of the brief, suggests that the place in the outcome  of the arts, culture and heritage will be subordinated  – and has now certainly become so – to the tourism business.

The arts, culture and heritage can whore with the best but they are each essentially much more than the producers of products to sell. They can do this, of course  – and triumphantly – but there’s a lot more to it than that.

These things often become a poncers paradise, talking a language and cloaking themselves in a glutinous pretension that, deliberately, excludes people and makes them feel unable.

The best of them is muscular, robust, engaged, mysterious maybe [and what’s wrong with the lure of the unknown] – and often ‘difficult’. The things that form us are never the easy ones. But this does not mean that that life we refer to as ‘the arts, culture and heritage’ is accessible only to the few.

The key to the door is realising that there is no ‘right’ answer, only the interest in finding your own and in discovering that that ‘answer’ is valuable to yourself.  In this world too many Emperors are naked and when that is your personal ‘answer’ to an experience – provided it is not born of defensiveness rather than openness – it is as valuable to you as any other would have been. Not everyone has the courage to nail a pseud.

No authority at any level can hope to create conditions for these agents that move us across time, place and experience to flourish and to enhance society – and economic development – without understanding what they are and what they can do.

So – ‘E’ for effort, with great interest in what emerges for our £20k.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • When I read the headline, I thought this was going to be about the Kilcreggan ferry tender…

    You never seem to cover this ongoing saga newsroom, despite interesting happenings recently…any comment?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 7

    Jamie Black September 3, 2013 6:58 pm Reply
  • JB, do you really not understand that managing bullshit is far more important than managing some boring little ferry contract serving a handful of whingeing peasants on the fringe of the known world?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 11

    Robert Wakeham September 3, 2013 7:46 pm Reply
  • [PCS] is a great site…below is another that need prioritising…..31 miles of pathways versus road upgrades? Town centres dying, rapid migration of young people oot of our region….lack of diversification in economy, nevermind the fact our council canny sort CHORD, TIF or any other strategic developments that are on table already.

    Why, why, why….further waste of dosh!

    “Argyll and Bute Council wishes to engage a consultant to carry out a feasibility study and outline design for a multi-use/ all-ability path from Connel to Tyndrum.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

    mccaigs folly September 3, 2013 8:45 pm Reply
  • so newsie person – non of your pals got the contract then?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 6

    ma heed's a hurtin September 3, 2013 10:24 pm Reply
    • You need to get your head around what may be an unusual situation.
      We call things as we see them on the evidence.
      That means that there is nobody that we would not offend and probably no one that we have not offended.
      So if you discover ‘friends’ of ours, it would be interesting to know who they might be.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 9

      newsroom September 3, 2013 10:44 pm Reply
  • Sue Crossman has a very sound background in arts and heritage consultancy, as well as tourism, and is a “known name” who has been around a long time. She is shrewd, incisive and nobody’s patsy.

    Keep in mind the possibility that in practice she may do most of the real thinking and strategising, within an exercise fronted up by others. In consultancy such an outcome wouldn’t be unknown.

    There are FAR worse potential bidders that the Council could have picked.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

    Bob Clark September 3, 2013 11:18 pm Reply
  • Is the news editor aware of any local companies that have lost out as a result of this appointment. If so then there may be a problem with the pre qualifying questionaire. But if the council awarded the contract to a local company who were charging 10% extra, your headline would be equally offensive. Your current news feeds appear to be a lot longer when it is about the current council body (of which i am not a part). I think if you have information on the other tenderers then it is only fair to air them as part of your report to show that you are reporting the item fairly. Have you attempted to find out who else tendered? these items would be interesting to know. For Argylls approach to argyll and Bute Council leave me thinking maybe its time to change the name of the web site!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 7

    Iain Macaskill September 3, 2013 11:58 pm Reply
    • I wrote the article and while I know of a couple of bidders, I have absolutely no idea of the identity of any bidders on the short list, bar the winner – assuming that there was a short list.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 10

      newsroom September 4, 2013 12:22 am Reply
  • Can i take it from your headline that the person or people who prepared and scored the tender document are known to you personally? otherwise how did you arrive at your headline?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

    Iain Macaskill September 4, 2013 12:05 am Reply
    • We have no knowledge of the identity of the person who wrote and scored this tender – in fact we had assumed that both of these tasks and certainly the scoring would have been done by more than one person.
      It is not necessary to know the identity of the person or persons concerned.
      The tender document itself makes it plain in its naivety that whoever it was [or whoever they were] has no specialist understanding of the territory.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 11

      newsroom September 4, 2013 12:26 am Reply
  • I wrote the article and ……… I have absolutely no idea of the identity of any bidders on the short list, bar the winner – assuming that there was a short list………
    We have no knowledge of the identity of the person who wrote and scored this tender – in fact we had assumed that both of these tasks and certainly the scoring would have been done by more than one person.
    It is not necessary to know the identity of the person or persons concerned.
    The tender document itself makes it plain in its naivety that whoever it was [or whoever they were] has no specialist understanding of the territory.

    Basically folks this is all made up! How I wish we could say this is a First for For Argyll

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

    H20 September 4, 2013 9:13 am Reply
  • It would help if you understood the process. What you have quoted from is a Notice, which by its very nature provides a summary of the requirement to prospective bidders. The detail of the requirement and the criteria by which the successful bidder will be selected would be included in the Invitation to Tender and the Instructions to Tenderers. To obtain the detailed document you would have had to register as an interested party, did you do that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

    bydand September 4, 2013 12:54 pm Reply
    • No – nor would we. This sort of action is simply mischievous.
      The point is that the published material is there to attract appropriate bidders by briefing succinctly on the nature of the job.
      Bidders chasing contracts will naturally follow anything falling within a very broad spectrum indeed – but the act pf preparing a competent outline brief for the PCS site
      is the best intellectual preparation for a public body in first interrogating itself itself on precisely what it wants.
      Nothing of the private procedure beyond our ken invalidates anything we have said.
      If there were real knowledge of the field capable of producing very different detailed material for private purposes, that same informed intelligence would indisputably have produced very different summary material that that issued on the PCS site – and would have produced a better correlation between the apparent needs expressed there and the final appointment made.
      For example if what the council wanted was consultancy on events around the arts, culture and heritage that could be brought into being to help to drive the areas’s tourism initiative, then the current appointment, with Sue Crossman on board, may be fine.
      But the tender brief asks for ‘a strategic action plan for the heritage, arts, culture and tourism sector’ – which is not at all the sane thing; nor do each of these fields belong in a single sector, although they may support each other – which is not the same thing either.
      When the outline tender asks for work : ‘to gain full engagement from relevant stakeholders and articulate the sector’s ambitions for creativity in Argyll’ – that relates to the earlier wish for a strategic action plan for the heritage, arts, culture and tourism sector’, indicating for a second time an intended direction of travel which is not reasonably to be expected from TBS, as they currently describe themselves and their team.
      We await the eventual study with interest – and hope.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 11

      newsroom September 4, 2013 1:52 pm Reply
      • Apologies but you appear to be missing the point that I was making. When a company registers on the PCS website it also sets criteria for the contract notices that it wishes to be automatically advised about e.g. construction work, training services etc.

        When it receives an automatic alert that a notice, meeting its criteria, has been published it can then access the notice. If the general summary of the works or services to be procured appears to be of interest to them then they can register their interest and access the additional documentation. This in no way commits them to participtaing in the competition. Anyone registering an interst would then have had access to the Tender Document i.e. the substantive document. This would enable them to detrmine whether the detail and specifics of the tender are something which they consider themselves to be capable of delivering and wish to tender for.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

        bydand September 5, 2013 10:30 am Reply
  • Corporate golf and hotel consultants – Why?

    The identified need was in Heritage, Arts and Culture was it not?

    Why not find someone with experience in these fields?

    Will A&B ever see the real value of what is directly under their noses?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    Depressed Again September 4, 2013 10:18 pm Reply
  • Can I ask the newsroom what qualification they have in order to condemn the manner in which the tender was procured, and which part of the tender has been written incorrectly. The tabloid style titles to the stories are becoming slightly tiresome. I would argue that unless you have studied the tender document you are not in a position to say whether or not it has been written correctly, and such statements are dangerous. (my opinion)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

    Iain Macaskill September 4, 2013 11:25 pm Reply
    • It would be nice if the editor replied to point number 11 above.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

      Iain Macaskill September 5, 2013 10:38 pm Reply
      • Why is newsie silent all of a sudden – could the editor be hiding, accepting the story was poorly written, with little or no knowledge of the subject – how ironic!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

        Iain Macaskill September 8, 2013 9:42 am Reply
  • I think the tendering process raises lots of questions, lots of problems and lots of misconceptions. I was in one of the bidding consortia for this contract (no surprise there), and all I know is that they had lots of interest and quite a few bids – not sure of the final figure. There is nothing secret or private about this or any other tender document, nor should there be. It goes up on a public website, and then in the process of assembling teams it flies all over the place. I have expressed interest in and shared tender docs lots of times and then after consideration not gone for them – it’s an open process and that is quite right!
    I sent copies of both this particular document and the web link out to all sorts of people – particularly as this is a tender of huge interest locally and many people have an interest in it. The tender contract is funded by public money and procurement is quite rightly an open process – I find it strange that anyone should mind who sees what is proposed.

    I am not going to comment publicly on the successful tender, but having discussed the convoluted process of procurement of this and other tenders with various folk I think there is a general problem here which is unrelated to this arts/heritage one and its outcome, and that is sheer weight of admin in public procurement. Argyll and Bute appears to be sinking beneath the weight of tenders which have to go out even for the smallest thing, and they are not alone – I heard today of one big tender in Dundee which is way over time, and is tangled in paperwork. Every council is struggling. It is heavy on both sides: the process of application is major, and the requirements on councils to cover every last loophole leads to these monster documents which weigh everyone down and do nothing for the ability of anyone to get a job done.
    The system of procurement is drowning in legislation (a lot of it European I gather) and the whole thing is a nightmare.
    I don’t really have an issue with the tender issued by A&B for the arts/heritage project – I think it roughly covered the goods, but the goods are tricky and I have to confess to a lurking relief that I wasn’t handed it to do. Let’s see where all this goes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

    Catherine Gillies September 5, 2013 5:34 pm Reply
  • I might add that the terms of the tender were drawn up in consultation with a steering group made up of people from within the arts and heritage sector in Argyll – so collectively they DO know what they are doing. I wasn’t on it (as I declared an interest) but it had/has a lot of good people on board.
    I do know that HIE and A&BC put cash into the process, which is good, but I am not sure who was on the panel for assessing the tenders.
    Instead of mystery and accusation around procurement I think we should all share knowledge – after all it is a matter of public money and interest, and everybody INCLUDING the procurer is better protected in the end if there are no secrets.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

    Catherine Gillies September 5, 2013 5:59 pm Reply
  • I am still waiting patiently for ‘newsie’ to respond to my point in post no 11 – am wondering why there is a delay – its not a difficult question to answer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

    Iain Macaskill September 6, 2013 11:22 pm Reply
  • Maybe ‘newsie’ is working on something more important than your demands or perhaps even taking a day off.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

    Lowry September 8, 2013 1:08 pm Reply
    • Lowry

      I have noticed that you keep running to support NEWSIE or condemn any person critical of NEWSIE

      Are you personal friends or the same person?

      I don’t really care if you are but at least be up front about it.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

      H20 September 8, 2013 2:48 pm Reply
      • As you say, you don’t really care and, frankly, it’s none of your business, but for the record I am neither. I believe all articles on this website are very enjoyable and stimualte a wealth of discussion and debate that is useful for us all to make reasoned choices and decisions (should we wish to do so).
        I’m sure that those people who keep slagging this website off are also getting a lot out of it otherwise why do they bother to engage?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

        Lowry September 8, 2013 4:08 pm Reply
  • I am slightly disappointed that ‘newsie’ has chosen not to defend themself or answer the question which I consider part of this open forum. It becomes very one sided when those with editorial powers chose what they reply to. I think if ‘newsie’ is not replying to the posts, then it looks like an admission that they are outwith their depth, and the headline could now be changed to ” how do you write a news report when you know nothing about the subject”. And for Lowry’s peace of mind – i was not looking for an answer to a personal demand – I was interacting in an open forum, and seeking clarification on facts, however very admirable of you to show your support towards the editor.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

    Iain Macaskill September 11, 2013 10:39 am Reply
    • Thank you – I take it as a compliment.
      However, I assume you are the type of being that expects others to jump when you say so. Fortunately, we don’t have to.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

      Lowry September 12, 2013 7:00 pm Reply
  • Can I ask why the thread about the tender document was removed, and why the editor felt it not necessary to reply to it, despite being so vocal about other subjects, is it not only right that you should have answered the question put to you, in an open forum, I mean if you are going to make comments like that, you must be prepared to back them up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

    Iain September 12, 2013 11:59 am Reply
    • I have just seen this – and have no idea that any thread on the tender document has been removed. I am asking my colleague, our Internet Services Director, to check on this now.
      Anyone who paid any attention whatsoever to this site would know at once that it would be unprecedented and utterly uncharacteristic for us to do anything like remove a thread.
      Neither the moderation operation nor the newsroom has the means to do anything like this and our techroom has no reason to do so.
      If something has happened for some technical reason we will find out what it is and strive to restore anything that has gone missing.
      I have also no idea what you’re talking about in saying that I should have answered a comment of yours that I have not seen.
      My job is on the production side and I do not have the latitude to spend any serious time checking on comments. I catch sight of some coincidentally and where I see anything I think ought to be responded to, I do do that – but it is far from a regular occurrence.
      I know I did respond to a couple of earlier comments from yourself on this subject but I have not been in touch with it since then.
      This is not rudeness or lack of interest, It is simple pressure of work.
      When I hear from my colleague on your notice of a missing comments thread on this story, I will certainly respond to whatever it was you are concerned about.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

      newsroom September 12, 2013 2:38 pm Reply
  • @Newsroom & @Iain Macaskill — I think the thread referred to is no 11. It seems to be still there. I wonder whether Iain was being ironic in his complaint that the thread had vanished? All I would say to his complaint is that the sheer volume of comments on the site, and the number of stories published here often preclude Newsroom being able to reply to everything. As has often been said, we do our very best at ForArgyll.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    Charles Dixon-Spain September 12, 2013 6:06 pm Reply
  • Put plainly – the story lacks any facts, and the headline is grossly misleading, and potentially damaging to the parties mentioned within. Possibly the only factual information in the story is the tender, and the company who won it, everything else is simply embarrassing. The author of a story should be accountable for what they write, and when i see in other threads an active an open forum in which the editor or ‘newsie’ comments on posts, then I’m sorry for expecting the same on this story.
    @ Lowry – yawn!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

    Iain September 12, 2013 9:10 pm Reply

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