Exclusive – Procurement Leaders comment on the “Procurement or Commissioning” issue

We featured a comment in the Civil Service reform plan last week, that seemed to question the whole definition of procurement (and don’t go away if you’re a private sector person, this may matter to you long term too!) Here’s what it said.

“ The move towards commissioning of services means many more public servants, not least in central government, need skills in managing markets, negotiating and agreeing contracts, and contract management. A new Commissioning Academy will be set up in 2013 to provide these skills to the whole public sector. This is separate from and alongside the drive to improve procurement practices. Procurement is a separate technical profession which must support commissioners but not replace them, just as HR teams support line managers but do not replace them”.

So, I’m very grateful that we’ve got on the record comments today from three key players in the debate. I’m going to feature them in full, and save my personal comments for later in the week. And interestingly, they take three slightly different lines – not contradictory, but different.

David Noble, CIPS Chief Executive, says this:

"CIPS has a concern over the positioning of procurement in the recent Civil Service Reform Plan.  Changes in the commissioning sphere over the past 12 months suggest there was always going to be a move towards commissioning becoming a separate discipline but we are clear that it is synonymous with strategic procurement and that many of the skills such as category management, supply chain analysis, and critical demand management are core procurement skills supporting the commissioning agenda.

There are subtle distinctions between the two roles, as commissioners have wider service delivery requirements to ‘the citizen’, but the thinking behind strategic procurement must be utilised for commissioning to be effective.  A large number of our members work in procurement and commissioning teams, especially in local government, so the synergies are already recognised.

CIPS is clear that the proposed establishment of a separate Commissioning Academy is an unnecessary move.  CIPS is already heavily engaged in the development of procurement capability in public sectors around the world and will share this expertise with UK government on this agenda to find a way for the two disciplines to work together going forward".

John Collington is in a tricky position as Government CPO, reporting ultimately into Francois Maude. So he is perhaps somewhat hedging his bets - agreeing with the comments in the Reform Plan but supporting a wide role for procurement. He told us this.

"When I joined Government over 5 years ago, I was of the opinion that Commissioning was akin to Strategic Sourcing as we would know it in the private sector.

However over the past few years as I have become more familiar with the range and scale of the public sector, I have come to appreciate the wide ranging use of Commissioning, i.e. for social services, independent studies/reviews, and the changes in health which will result in much more Commissioning by GPs, to name but a few. So in summary, I am comfortable with words used in the CSR plan.

Further, it is my long held belief and one that I've presented on many occasions, that Procurement should be viewed and applied as a holistic process, from the initial planning, the act of sourcing and then importantly the continuum of contract and supplier management.

I believe we have made great progress over these past few years in getting acceptance to holistic procurement to the extent that well known phrase of 'let and forget' which appeared prevalent a few years ago, is no longer used. And there is no doubt that Francis Maude continues to be a very strong supporter of the procurement profession.

Finally and for information, the work to develop Commissioning Academies is being led by a team within Cabinet Office ERG, overseen by Sally Collier, in her capacity as Executive Director Policy and Capability".

Then David Smith, who wears a number of hats. He is CIPS President, the deputy Government CPO and Commercial Director for the largest civil Department, DWP. David takes what we might define as a middle track – and without pre-empting my comments to come later, there’s definitely merit in this analysis.

“Skills like market analysis, market management, negotiation and contract and supplier management are within the core skill set of procurement professionals – we should be capable of doing the full range. It is what we do, and we’re good at it and these skills enable us to make key contributions to our business whether in the public or private sector.

But it has got to be helpful for many other managers and stakeholders in different parts of our organisations to have, at least, some of these skills, to help them do their jobs better and to better understand what we do and why. That doesn’t mean they will, or should replace procurement people.

Core Procurement is business critical and should not be marginalised  - we all work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen with full support from our professional body (CIPS)– we need to continue to demonstrate our skills and added value when we work with our businesses, We shouldn’t be defensive and we should value those stakeholders who understand commercial issues. But I don’t believe they are a threat to the profession or procurement people – we should be able to work together positively to everyone’s benefit.

I know that the Minister is very supportive of a strong procurement function in the public sector and has continually highlighted our role as key to the delivery of government’s financial and policy objectives".

Many thanks to Noble, Collington and Smith, incredibly busy people who responded so promptly – and we will return to the topic later this week.

Voices (3)

  1. Phoenix:

    If the Minister is so strong and supportive of our profession, it certainly doesn’t sound like it.

    I’m pleased (and not a little pleasantly surprised) that David Noble has taken quite a firm line on this. Of course, he’s not on the Civil Service payroll like the others but he certainly has an interest in not killing the goose. This is just the sort of challenge to Government we need from our professional body – one we hadn’t seen from DN’s tenure in the seat on the Government’s Procurement Board up to now.

  2. dan2:

    Collington’s view makes sense to me. Think of it this way – much of public sector procurement strategy is based around traditional categories of spend so you’ll always get the same result i.e. IT category manager will always produce a strategy around the best way to buy IT.

    Pushing commissioning into the policy units (which must link policy and delivery – a benefit in itself) will allow for a different view of what to buy. Instead of the ‘build an IT system that manages cases for immigration’; perhaps policy units will look to buy an outcome e.g. ‘manage the borders’. Cutting the cake a different way may give a different result – with a greater trend towards BPO? The traditional category manager wouldn’t look at it this way as deals like this would be out of the scope of their spend to manage.

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