‘Lean procurement’ report published – will it help SMEs (or anyone else?)

We've been a little remiss in following up the range of announcements from Cabinet Office about supporting smaller firms (SMEs) bidding for Government contracts. So we'll remedy that in the next couple of days; today we'll look at the suggestions around 'lean procurement'.

You may remember a review with input from Unipart was announced and we predicted here what the outcome would be. Well, we weren’t far off the mark. The widest set of findings is around ‘process design and management’ – pretty much what we defined as ‘project management’. Inefficient engagement with suppliers, risk aversion, too much varied guidance and overly lengthy timescales.

There is too much bureaucracy; not enough procurement capability; and we go to OJEU advert without enough preparation - yes, we predicted that one! And the competitive dialogue process is used too often; yes, agree with that.

Nothing on technology though, or covering over-complicated evaluation processes. That gap in terms of technology seems a shame as there is no doubt that better use of software tools could help speed up procurement processes - a missed opportunity to make some useful recommendations.

Many of the recommendations are very sensible, and publishing project timescales for example will put pressure (in a good way) on organisations to work more effectively. About the only suggestion I take issue with is the interesting idea (in the detailed report) that only procurement people who are in some sense ‘accredited’ should be allowed to work on major procurement projects. CIPS is mentioned as part of that accreditation, and there should also be ‘lean’ training as part of this; an unsurprising recommendation perhaps given the involvement of Unipart*.  (Any suggestions who should deliver that training then…might it be Unipart by any chance)?

I can see the attraction of all this with my professional hat on – but it strikes me that might cause yet another bottleneck in the process. “We can’t progress this procurement because our only accredited procurement person has gone sick”.  It also creates quite literally a ‘buyers market’– good for procurement salaries but not necessarily for the taxpayer.  And of course we all know that having a CIPS qualification, an MBA or your 25 yards breaststroke certificate doesn't necessarily mean you know how to successfully run a complex procurement process or negotiate a difficult commercial arrangement. Personally, I can’t see this accreditation idea taking off.

So, all in all, a decent report, although it doesn't really in all truth have much to do with the SME agenda. It is talking in the main about larger procurements, which even if fewer are delivered via Competitive Dialogue, are not the sort of contracts that SMEs are likely to bid for. We'll come back later this week to some of the Cabinet Office initiatives that are more clearly SME focused.

*I'm not anti-Unipart; it's just they didn't go through any competitive process to work on this project, although I'm told they weren't paid either. But I don't think they should get a whole load of follow-on work out of it without at least some market testing.

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