Reverse e-auctions have all the trademarks of compulsory competitive tendering, and that regime is widely discredited. True, just as CCT delivered efficiency benefits to services such as refuse collection, reverse e-auctions do offer the chance for public bodies to acquire products and services at attractive rates.
However, just like CCT, the idea collapses when faced with the complexities of construction procurement, where quality and whole-life costs are an integral part of the decision making process. Public bodies are committed to delivering the concept of "best value", and this has been the mantra since 2000, not lowest price. How then can the public sector be asked to champion a form of tendering that is, in the last analysis, based on price alone?
It is naive for those who champion reverse auctions to pretend that the quality benchmark is set before the auction commences. How else are cost reductions to be made if it is not at the sacrifice of operating margins, safety and quality? It is just these perils that undermined CCT, and we must warn the public sector construction client that this will be the result of these invidious auctions. Use them for the purchase of PCs and stationery, but treat construction with the sophistication that it deserves.
Peter Bishop, director of The Local Government Task Force, by email.