UK Government procurement part 3: life after OGC

So we looked back at OGC’s history and performance yesterday; today we’ll assess what life after OGC looks like for public sector procurement.

Of course, at the moment, and before the inevitable redundancy programme kicks in, the ex-OGC people who are still there are in most cases working hard.  Certain areas, such as procurement policy, will continue as there is work that must be done (EU liaison for instance). The Transparency agenda (at least on the spend information side) fits well into that area, unless it is snaffled by another ambitious Cabinet Office official. I can’t see project and programme management being cut too hard given the focus on value, and I understand David Pitchford, who leads that area has impressed new Ministers.

In other areas, we’ve see activity and / or people re-focusing.  So David Shields has moved to Buying Solutions, and there is more re-shuffling to be done in terms of his old collaborative team. And two ‘new’ areas of work have sprung up; the initiative to negotiate savings with top suppliers and develop a more cross-Government way of dealing with them (under Adrian Kamellard); and the centralization of procurement for major category spend areas across Whitehall (with John Collington in the lead).

This is leading to a more project or initiative type approach rather than the old, traditional OGC structure.  That may not be a bad thing; there is I believe a real drive to get things done and a sense of urgency we didn’t always see before. We’ll look at progress in these areas in more detail tomorrow.  And of course we arguably have more senior (SCS2) level procurement resource than in the OGC days, as Collington and Kamellard now supplement the ‘old’ OGC team at that level.

But what has been lost? Much of it is intangible, but to me it is the sense of a focal point and someone to represent the profession at the top table in Government. Now some might say that is Francis Maude, and he is certainly more involved with and understanding of procurement than any Minster we’ve ever seen, which is good news.  But he’s not the ‘professional lead’ in the way Gershon, Oughton and Smith were as Chief Executives of OGC.  And what happens if he’s suddenly promoted to another (Cabinet) post, which is far from impossible?

His focus is also very much on specific initiatives and deliverables. But developing long term capability in procurement takes time, as we all know. Who is going to own that?  And he has no obvious remit to do anything much about procurement in the wider public sector, or to get involved in the re-engineering of Defence procurement that one assumes will gather pace in 2011, or to contribute ‘OGC’ expertise to help ensure the procurement aspects of GP Commissioning don’t end up losing the next election for the Tories. Those sectors will have to rely on their own efforts; although to put it in perspective, OGC made limited progress anyway across that wider picture.

So our verdict; we’ve got a trade-off. Apart from my personal feelings (and I should have declared that OGC were my biggest consulting client over the last 6 years or so), we’ve lost an entity that, whatever its failings, had taken its responsibility for improving Government procurement seriously, and had achieved a lot. Which of course it should have given the resource it consumed.  But we’ve gained a very delivery focused Minister who is taking an informed interest in delivering specific procurement activities and initiatives. And we have a lot of talent and effort going into those particular projects.

On balance, I take the loss of our most senior professional leader in the sector as a disappointing moment in the history of UK public sector procurement. But we may not miss that too much if these big central initiatives do deliver; and the professional procurement leaders in other sectors respond to the challenge of spend reduction and ensure procurement plays its full part in their organisations.

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