Hughes / Day report on public procurement – the “Process” pillar

We’ve been featuring the Day / Hughes report on public procurement and working our way through their “six pillars”. We’ll cover the last two before Xmas then come back with some reflections on the whole thing in the New Year.

Pillar 5 is “Process” which, as the authors point out, is not in short supply in the public sector! But the term “Process”, as used by the authors, actually covers three distinct aspects. Firstly, they use it to describe some general thinking about the change process needed to drive their whole proposed initiative, quoting Francis Maude and his “burning platform”.  Then they get into the key processes that they believe procurement people in Government need to deliver benefits. That is primarily “category management”, which they see as the foundation for progress.  Finally, they look at tendering process simplification.

For me, one highlight of this chapter is a very detailed Category Management maturity model, running from “early days” through to “best in class performer”.  This is another example of very high quality intellectual property contained in the report - useful to anyone, public or private sector.

But category management in the public sector has not achieved widespread adoption.  The authors point out that when they reviewed the available documentation there was good practice but ;

“ notable by their relative absence..  are the heartland core procurement processes of category management and supplier management, so enthusiastically embraced by the private sector over the last 25 years”

I don’t disagree with any of their analysis, although I think they are perhaps under-estimating the genuine importance of the project mentality in the public sector. If you’re buying aircraft carriers, or the components of the Crossrail programme, I would argue that category management is not necessarily the best process model. However, they are correct to say that it isn't as well established, or even understood, as it should be in the public sector.

And government buyers may actually be moving away from CatMan even where it is relevant – the pressure on costs, and the desire to introduce “lean procurement” might take us back to a situation where it is each individual procurement exercise that is the focus, rather than the more holistic management at category level. We’ll have to see what the lean procurement “operating model” looks like when it comes out from Cabinet Office shortly to see if our fears are justified.

Hughes and Day are positive about tendering process simplification – they make it clear, quite rightly, that it is not a case of one or the other. We need strong category management wherever it is relevant, AND effective delivery of efficient and appropriate procurement processes.

Anyway, if  you haven’t got yourself a copy of the report yet, you should – visit their deficit reduction website for a free download.

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