Gold-Plating Procurement in Local Government or Gold-Plated Nonsense from Minister?

Supply Management reported last week that Kris Hopkins, a Junior Minister, accused buyers in local government sector of “gold plating” their procurement processes.

“Hopkins made the comments as the Department for Communities and Local Government published a consultation on updated ‘best value’ guidance for local authorities. The revisions to the Best Value Statutory Guidance include an exhortation that authorities 'should avoid gold-plating the Equality Act 2010 and should not impose contractual requirements on private and voluntary sector contractors, over and above the obligations in the Act.'”

So how has Hopkins arrived at this conclusion? Has he gained real objective evidence through his detailed studies of hundreds of tenders? Has he carried out careful analysis of the way the terms, conditions, and evaluation process is structured across different authorities? Has he looked at how that relates to the risk profile of each procurement exercise to assess whether the buyer has got the right balance between risk management and simplicity of process for supplier and buyer?

Or perhaps he has spent many months or years talking to local government procurement people, to gain a really thorough understanding of the issues facing practitioners. He may even have carried out his own detailed assessment of the skill levels available – and it would be good to think he has lobbied long and hard for more training, resource and skills development effort to go into upskilling our local government procurement workforce to address any of the issues his careful analysis has uncovered.

Has he done any of those things? Of course he hasn't. He probably didn't even write those words, it was most likely a 25 year old special adviser, or perhaps a harrassed press secretary who needed a few words to go along with the launch of the consultation. Hopkins, we suspect, has not the slightest clue how good or otherwise public procurement in local government or anywhere else for that matter might be. It's a stupidly meaningless soundbite, with no evidence to back it up, and a cheap dig at a group of people who tread a tricky line with the conflicting priorities inherent in public procurement. (Save money. Support SMEs. Encourage diversity. Meet citizen needs).

Hopkins also said:

“Costly gold-plating of procurement is rife across the public sector but we are freeing town halls from this tick box mentality so that they can deliver a better deal for local people.”

So who exactly is the “we” in that, Kris? Are you going to start checking contract documents? It is also ironic that none of the legal provisions such as the Equalities and Social Value Acts, that do add to workload and in some cases, perceived bureaucracy, are being touched. So this looks like an announcement without substance, a few meaningless platitudes that might just get the odd gullible small business person to think positively about the government.

And a black mark too for Supply Management for reporting his idiotic words without comment or criticism. God knows, Spend Matters is not afraid to criticise procurement when it is deserved, but if Supply Management is going to represent the profession, then a bit more robustness might be good.

Voices (2)

  1. Ian R:

    Thank you Peter, your article sums up the general depression that us public sector procurement people feel when we hear the latest PR wheeze about our profession; such as-

    “the enemies of enterprise”
    “local governement can save £2billion on all spend because we leveraged a 10% discount on lightbulbs”

    By the way – I am now looking forward to your article on this:

  2. Dan:

    Serious question Peter, which I hope you will be able to answer due to your experience of working in central government, as well as your contacts:

    When concocting procurement policies, do Government ministers actually speak to buyers with real experience of public procurement first? It seems like every comment made on the subject is inspired by recent discussions with suppliers, or policy gurus from other areas (such as equality and diversity) rather than the trained and experienced people who will be expected to put it into action. A lot of senior public procurement people don’t seem to have this experience, either being policy people or being brought in from the private sector (naming no names).

Discuss this:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *