Opinion: Govt work is great – if you can get it

I enjoy a good competitive pitch as much as the next person. But has anyone else noticed an increasingly monolithic approach to the procurement of comms support by government and its affiliated bodies?

We recently completed the so-called pre-qualification questionnaire for a public body. Bearing in mind this was an effort to get included on a roster – that shortlist of agencies deemed eligible to pitch for an organisation's PR work – the fact that it took a whole day to complete was alarming. What's more, those agencies that make it onto the roster will no doubt devote even more time and resources to their presentations, if indeed they do get the chance to present – being on such shortlists is no guarantee of even being invited to pitch, let alone an assurance of definite work.

Providing huge amounts of information is a significant cost for the (majority) of small agencies and consultancies. If criteria must be used to sort candidates, they should be published from the outset, saving everyone – government and agencies – time and money.

And why not run credit and eligibility checks once, rather than each government department and body using different and overlapping (and mostly badly designed) forms? Start-up agencies cannot take the risk of investing in such costly pitch processes without the client guaranteeing a minimum quota of work if they win.

Staying with the subject of barriers to work, agencies that missed the Department for Work and Pensions tender last year have been told that all marketing and communications procurement has been settled until 2010. Don't get me wrong. Where public money is involved, I am all for efficiency. But how can government present itself in a creative, lively way if it only considers changing its comms advisers every four years?

For public sector communicators there is an urgent need to reach excluded communities and engage people in new ways. This will require a diversity of supply – in all areas, not least communications support. So actively seeking the original and the untested must be part of the government procurement mandate. It may not be easy for government to look beyond the usual suspects, but we would all benefit if it did.

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