Cabinet Office procurement speeches – we asked questions, we got some answers

After the big Francis Maude speech on public procurement in November, and the suppliers’ conference where officials including John Collington, Government CPO spoke, we asked Cabinet Office for a few clarifications. (You can see / read the material here).

We’re pleased to report back. But before we do, and just for context – Maude is the most interested, knowledgeable, committed Minister we’ve ever had looking after procurement. Fact.  But that doesn’t mean he, or indeed his civil servants, are incapable of error or interesting use of statistics of course...

Starting on the positive side, we had heard rumours that the Crown Commercial Representatives initiative was losing steam, despite the official reports to the contrary.  So we asked how many meetings the CCR’s have held with their suppliers. The answer is – more than you might have expected! In total, since April, they’ve held  around 250 meetings with the designated firms, who are the top 50 or so suppliers to the UK Government. The busiest CCRs have had around 40 meetings with "their" particular batch - I’m impressed. Of course, we don’t have full sight of what is emerging in terms of results, but there doesn’t seem to be a lack of effort anyway.

Then we also asked about the comments that were reported from the conference, stating that in September 2011 40% of Government contracts were agreed with SMEs compared to only 5% in January.  To be fair to John Collington, he did say in his speech that this referred to contracts awarded via the Cabinet Office “Contracts Finder” platform, used to advertise low value contracts, and that it related to volume of contracts, not value.

But it wasn’t so clear that taking January as the baseline was perhaps a little questionable, given the platform was just starting up and the full response we got from Cabinet Office showed that there were only 30 contracts awarded in that month, compared to 457 in September.

John Collington at the suppliers' conference - note the fine "Movember" charity moustache!

In addition, we reckon about £25 million worth of contracts are going through Contracts Finder each month now – not to be sneezed at, but put in the context of total public sector procurement spend of something like £15 billion per month, it is a drop in the ocean. Less than one percent -  0.17% to be precise.  And we would expect smaller contracts to be more attractive to SMEs anyway.

So while we don’t want to sound negative about what is a positive initiative as far as it goes, the quoted “success” covers a tiny fraction of the entirety of public sector spend –it tells us very little about the overall 25% by value SME target and progress towards that. But it is something tangible, and positive, which is why it is going to get featured in conferences and announcements no doubt  for the rest of this Government!

Tomorrow we’ll give you the feedback on Francis Maude’s comment in his speech that UK public procurement was “biased against UK businesses”. We asked for the evidence that informed that comment – because Ministers wouldn’t dream of making provocative statements like that without firm evidence, would they?

First Voice

  1. Final Furlong:

    Is it my imagination (or simply the effect of light and shadow) but is that a small mammal under Mr Collington’s nose?

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