UK Government procurement – the anti-centralisation fightback starts!

After our Yes Minister homage earlier this week (here and here),  covering the further centralisation of procurement in UK Government, it was interesting to see yesterday what might be the beginnings of a fight back by the departments against the increasingly ambitious and controlling Cabinet Office.

Someone – or several someones – has obviously fed Sue Cameron at the Telegraph with some juicy titbits of anti-Cabinet Office information / propaganda (take your pick, depending with whom your sympathies lie). This is not surprising after the incredibly one-sided Times feature recently, that gave two pages over to what I can only assume was Cabinet Office generated criticism of department’s general incompetence.

You get the flavour of this Telegraph piece from the first few lines.

The Department of Odds and Sods, aka the Cabinet Office, is trying to seize control of much of the rest of Whitehall – and it seems to be upsetting just about everyone. The mandarins in some departments are up in arms; others have their heads in their hands at the bureaucratic bean-counting being inflicted on them by the centre; top Government suppliers in the private sector seem equally unhappy and complain of rudeness, incompetence and gobbledegook.

Some of the Telegraph’s examples and comments are pretty procurement specific . So for instance, Cameron  points out that some departments might have good reason not to use the central recycled paper contract, if that paper actually doesn’t work on complex (and labour saving) mailing fulfilment equipment. That equipment is apparently known as “licking and bonking machines”, which gives the article its somewhat smutty title!

I’m a little surprised she didn’t pick up on the point we made about accountability, which seems to us to be central to this debate. If more procurement and IT projects are transferred out of departments to the centre, who carries the can when things go wrong?  (And next week we’ll have some very interesting views on how that debate is going).

Cameron also has a go at people in the Cabinet Office. Some of that comes from suppliers, who as we have also said before are feeling bruised by the hostility they seem to be attracting from Cabinet Office. Here is one private sector supplier talking about the Cabinet Office:

“They can also be really rude. I think you would struggle to find anyone among the Government’s suppliers who had a good word for them”.

I’m not sure that’s true – I have heard mixed views of the operational arm of the Government Procurement Service from the supply side, but that certainly includes some positive comments and a sense that there has been improvement over the last three years or so.  However, the Cabinet Office having declared war, the departments and some suppliers are now training their artillery towards Horseguards Road... it could get bloody!

Cameron concludes by questioning, rightly, whether centralisation is always the answer, even if it sometimes works in the private sector, and offering some advice.

“Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and his staff need to do more to take the rest of Whitehall and their private sector partners with them”.

I wouldn’t disagree with that – but do read the whole article here.

First Voice

  1. anon:

    Bill Crothers rude??? Never! And i’m sure he has this all under control and is not just making it up and shouting at staff as he goes along either!

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