UK Government’s ‘centralising procurement’ initiative; is it 6 months behind schedule?

We featured last week the range of announcements from Cabinet Office around continuing cost cutting measures. One of the areas covered was the centralising procurement project, and this is what the statement said;

Nine categories of common goods and services, including energy, office suppliers and travel, will be procured centrally by October 2011

We've checked back to the original Cabinet Office Structural Reform Plan, published last summmer and updated monthly, which says this:

Communicate new operating model to departments and roll out new commodity procurement system (due to complete Mar 2011)

Well, it sounds as if it isn't going to be 'rolled out' now till October - unless there's some difference between rolling out the system and putting contracts in place?  But I think the voter on the Clapham Omnibus would have taken the original Plan statement as meaning this would be done by the end of March.

I'm not surprised; it always seemed a very optimistic target, and one I understand was imposed on Cabinet Office by No. 10 against the better judgement of at least some of the wiser voices within the CO (and wider) procurement community.

And I'll reproduce here the brilliant comment (from 'The Final Furlong')  we had on our previous post, which gives a great explanation as to why these cross-Departmental initiatives always take longer than you might expect...although not sure I get the final elephant reference!

Let’s borrow one of your most recent analogies…I imagine that, frustratingly, for the ‘race organisers’ (and ‘firm favourites’), this race is having to progress at the speed of the slowest horse.

And as you know, most spectators and punters tend to congregate near to, or around, the finishing line which can be quite frustrating when watching this sort of race.

I can imagine that the slowest horse is dragging a old fashioned cart, with only three wheels, overladen with considerable baggage. No doubt, there will hurdles, hedges and water-jumps in this race, and the ground won’t be firm.

Due to race rules, all horses will have to cross, or be dragged across, the finishing line at the same time – even if they are lame, or have no rider. There may be plenty of jockeying for positions – likely to happen when they’re round the bend.

If any rider is unseated during the race, race organisers may need to continue, but any such decision will have to be taken on the hoof.  Any horse who gets ahead of their rider, and, potentially, of other horses, will, of course, be reined in.

After the race, race stewards and groundsmen will have to clean up all or any horsesh*t left behind.  An outsider may try and sneak a complete donkey (presented to race organisers as a thoroughbred) into the race to slow it down even further.

The odds are that it will be an odd sort of race. Until the next race, that is, when they’ll all bring their elephants into the room.

First Voice

  1. The Final Furlong:

    Ah, firstly, let’s remind ourselves of the meaning to “elephant in the room”…

    …an English idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss. It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to concern themselves with tangential or small and irrelevant issues rather than deal with the looming big one.

    Now let’s switch on the lateral part of our brains.

    Unless you’re on ostrich (let’s not go there…), it’s obvious that, in this first ‘race’, ERG is seeking to address central government’s approach to the purchase and supply of mid-to-back office (one might argue just back office) commodities. Aligning this to our horse analogy, this really should be a simple race – perhaps a few hurdles and the odd water jump – but once round the course and straight over the finishing line, with the complication, perhaps, of bringing them over the line at the same time. And one can even imagine that each Department has entered its best horse in this first race (who wouldn’t) to show off their form, track record, rider etc, even though they know that this race might be a handicap*.

    There is no doubt that this first race (and its course) has been designed to be a win (a quick one) for all horses and riders.

    However, in the next race, the (known) elephants in the room will need to be addressed, and, surely, there will have to be winners and losers – no crossing the line together in this one. And taking aside any big ones already in the centre, each Department may well bring its own elephant (into the room) with them.

    Interestingly, the delay to the existing race might well be related to the simple notion that one of these elephants has already been let loose on the course. One can imagine that ‘organisation design’ and ‘operating model’ might be the sort of elephants that could run amok and unseat a few of the existing riders…

    *A handicap is a contest in which the weight each horse is to carry is individually allotted (by the official handicapper) according to past performance, the theoretical object being to equalise the chances of all horses in the race. Handicaps often provide thrilling finishes.

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