BBC are refused Cabinet Office info on top suppliers initiative

We featured a whole range of posts around UK government procurement last week, and touched again on the initiative to drive savings from major suppliers to Government.

We've commented several times that no supplier has issued a profit warning or anything similar despite the fact that Francis Maude is talking of savings of £800 million this year from the initiative. At the same time, I'm assured by people I know well in Government that real benefits are being achieved here.

I've been considering banging in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, but now the BBC's Martin Rosenbaum on his FOI Blog reports that the BBC have done the same to try and get more details on the savings.  And they report here that, perhaps not surprisingly, their request has been turned down because of 'commercial confidentiality'. They also point out the somewhat conflicted role Maude plays in this as the Minister responsible for the Transparency agenda:

More recently Francis Maude, the minister leading the government's transparency agenda, told last year's Conservative party conference that the coalition had already saved several 100 million pounds by renegotiating contracts with large suppliers. My colleague Julia Ross asked the Cabinet Office to break this down by supplier, so that we could examine and report on the exact nature and extent of the savings obtained. The government confirmed they held the information, but this week declined to reveal it. They argued that it would harm commercial confidentiality and also damage relationships with suppliers. The minister who gave his formal opinion that disclosure would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs was the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who is Francis Maude.

I can see that there are some commercial issues here.  But the Cabinet Office needs to say something more about this - taking care not to genuinely prejudice commerciality - rather than purely making assertions of very large numbers.  Otherwise we will be back in the discredited 'efficiency savings' of the last Government and the public, press and other interested parties will all start to think the worst (see our "12 top tips"...)

Voices (3)

  1. Peter Smith:

    John
    I agree the baseline is key. I’d like to get inside the numbers, as it would be a shame if good work is going on and it loses credibility because no one tends to believe big numbers mentioned in Ministers’ speeches without any evidence! (I wonder why…) And as you say, some suppliers have definitely seen pain…

  2. John Diffenthal:

    The problem with these kind of figures (£800 million in the current year) is that no-one has a clue what the baseline is. If projected spend was 2010 plus £800 million then the saving would be an unchanged picture for suppliers – I realise that is unlikely but without the context it is difficult to know what conclusions to draw.

    That said, there isn’t much doubt that some of the initial targets of the Coalition, things like Building Schools for the Future, have bruised the construction industry, so some suppliers have certainly felt some pain from the change in government.

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