Public Administration Select Committee to grill Cabinet Office procurement A-Team

The Public Administration Select Committee are continuing their deliberations into UK public sector procurement today at 4.45pm – you can watch here hopefully. For this session, they have the internal “A Team” lined up - they're grilling Stephen Kelly, the relatively new COO of Cabinet Office, Bill Crothers, Government CPO, and Sally Collier, his deputy and the lead procurement policy person in government – and the only career civil servant of the three.

Kelly isn't a procurement man by background, being a successful software executive and entrepreneur. Crothers is a late-comer to the profession, having spent the last four or five years in government commercial roles after a career in Accenture in other business areas. I can't comment on them from much personal knowledge, but they have impressive track records. Collier has been around OGC then Cabinet Office for many years and is tremendously knowledgeable about procurement from a policy aspect, and (speaking from personal experience) is also a very effective senior manager.

But it is interesting that there isn't actually much experience in that team of actually running major operational procurement programmes, using technology to deliver procurement transformation, building procurement teams, implementing category management, or those sort of imperatives and priorities that face many CPOs in public and private sector.

So here is an interesting question. Francis Maude is still unhappy about the level of buy-in the central procurement initiative is getting from Departments. Would it have been better if a dyed-in-the-wool, career, operational procurement person had ended up in one of those top Cabinet Office jobs? (Of course, David Shields, who runs the operational arm of GPS, is very much in that mould, so perhaps he provides that experience within the Cabinet Office team)?

Anyway, here are five interesting questions that the PASC might like to ask. They're not “trick questions” in any sense, but might draw genuinely illuminating answers.

  • What has happened to the “procurement investment fund” (the profits from GPS trading activities) that was supposed to be used for skills development, and what is the Cabinet Office plan for improving procurement capability?
  • Isn't it strange that Cabinet Office had no data on numbers of procurement people in central government  (see our comments on the recent NAO report)?
  • Lean procurement is a good initiative but there are many other skills needed by procurement professionals – what other priorities do you see?
  • How do you feel about DfT appointing someone with no procurement or programme management background into what is arguably one of the most critical “procurement” roles in government (Director-General Rail)?
  • Why are PFI special purpose vehicles counted in the spend figures for smaller firms (see here for more detail) - and is the 25% target for SME spend really credible for central, as opposed to devolved, government?  (The answer to that question is, quite honestly, “no” but of course they can’t say that)!

Voices (4)

  1. Dan2:

    Good call Rowan – employee Ts&Cs (and work objectives) are key. Right now, what is in it for the staff? Collaboration across govt isn’t in their job spec. They don’t get any thanks for putting in the effort. They have a day job to do, so collaboration happens in their spare time by staff who know its ‘the right thing to do’.

    Flow objectives to the perm sec – they will flow down to those on the coal face, then I reckon things will change.

  2. Rowan Gilpin:

    Until Govt Depts stop acting as fiefdoms and start understanding they should work together to save tax payers money, any joint purchasing / framework agreements will not be optimised. Departments need to deal with fundamentals first eg processes and employee T&C’s to make any real money savings

  3. Dave Orr:

    Tony Collins blog: ‘Francis Maude –“unacceptable” civil service practices’

    http://ukcampaign4change.com/2013/03/21/francis-maude-unacceptable-civil-service-practices/

  4. life:

    Kelly isn’t a procurement man by background, but is close friends – he says ‘best friends’ (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/profiles/8643475/Stephen-Kelly-the-man-at-the-coal-face-of-the-Big-Society.html) with Maude. His take on it all as an outsider to Government, and procurement, will be very interesting and I hope may reveal some of the current ‘inside’ thinking.

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