The Coalition – 100* days of public procurement

OK, so I'm a few days late; but as every paper last week had its review of the first 100 day of the UK coalition government, we thought we should do the same.  But purely from a procurement perspective; we are non-political so won't comment on the underlying policies.  So for instance, we will never say "cutting spend is wrong, you should tax more".  But we will comment on the delivery of policy; for instance, on how effectively and competently from an operational point of view third party spend is being cut.

Just wanted to make that clear before we start!   So here are the positives, the negatives, the not-sure-yets, the winners and the losers from the first 100 days.

POSITIVES

  • Immediate roadblocks to discretionary spend in areas such as consultancy, advertising etc.  I may not like it personally, but it is exactly what we would do if we came into a financially challenged organisation. And it has been followed through.
  • Decisive moves to aggregate central government spend on common categories.  Hasn't delivered yet, but in principle, hard to argue with.
  • Killing off Building Schools for the Future; if they really cost 2 to 3 times as much as locally procured schools (and I have had that confirmed by a local authority privately) then a good move, even if badly handled from a PR perspective.
  • Creation of the Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG) - a strong focus on what needs to be done, and an impressive Structural Reform Plan placed in the public domain very quickly.
  • Getting Ian Watmore - by all accounts very capable and impressive - back in to run the ERG.

NEGATIVES

  • The 'negotiating immediate cost savings from major suppliers' initiative.  Not approached in a manner that is likely to lead to success in our opinion.
  • Likely that support to local government procurement initiatives (e.g. the RIEPS) will be abolished, with little sight of what else may be around to promote collaboration and good practice.
  • Losing Nigel Smith - probably inevitable given Watmore's arrival, but a shame nonetheless.
  • Uncertainty about OGC's future - now really dragging on.  Bad news for staff, and an opportunity cost because of a lack of direction.
  • GP Commissioning; not a policy criticism (see above); but huge commercial issues that, as far as we can tell, have not been fully thought through as yet.

TOO SOON TO TELL

  • How wider public sector organisations will react to the reduction in central government oversight in terms of procurement collaboration and the need for general improvement (particularly if OGC or something similar does not take that role going forward).
  • Whether the outputs of the 'aggregated procurement' initiative in central government will justify the cost and effort (and that will also determine the success of John Collington's appointment).
  • Whether the transparency agenda will lead to better value from public expenditure, or higher overheads for public organisations, a culture of risk avoidance and a new boom in legal claims and challenges against contracting authorities.
  • The idea of making compliance to certain contracts a legal requirement (as in the Police Service report) is fascinating and may prove to be genius or madness. Are we going to see an elected Police Commissioner sent to prison for buying the wrong trousers?!
  • MOD procurement - can Dr Fox succeed where so many others have failed?

WINNERS

  1. Francis Maude and Cabinet Office for the greatest Departmental power grab in 100 days I've ever seen.
  2. Individuals in Cabinet Office such as John Suffolk (now with real power as Government CIO) and Ian Watmore.
  3. Ian Taylor and John Collington for their new roles.
  4. Home Office, HMRC and DWP who look likely to be the centres for central government aggregated procurement.
  5. National Audit Office (picking up Audit Commission work).

LOSERS

  1. Consulting, advertising and IT firms.
  2. The Guardian ( and others who rely heavily on public sector job advertising).
  3. Other central Department CPOs  (particularly those who, unlike MOD and DWP, don't have huge 'other' non-common category procurement to be getting on with when the other stuff is centralised).
  4. Primary Care Trusts, the Audit Commission,  Becta, Regional Agencies, and everyone else who has been,  or will be, abolished.

We wait to see if the next 100 days will be as exciting!

* OK,  so its more like 105 now

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