Exclusive! OGC / Cabinet Office procurement re-organisation takes another step forward

Spend Matters has learnt that the long-awaited re-organisation of OGC / Cabinet Office / Buying Solutions in response to the centralisation of UK government commodity procurement has started in earnest.

David Shields, who led the collaborative procurement division within the ‘core’ OGC organisation, is transferring over to Buying Solutions to take up what is in effect a COO role (“Procurement Delivery Director”) there at Board level.  His task is to help transform Buying Solutions into an organisation that can deliver the ‘Centralising Category Procurement’ programme, which is still under the overall leadership of John Collington.  Alison Littley remains as Chief Executive of Buying Solutions, reporting still (I believe) to Ian Watmore.

Shields, whose pre-OGC career included procurement roles with both Customs and Excise and private sector firms in the insurance and print industries, will be leading change and improvement across a range of areas – better service and performance management, new contracting vehicles and tools, capability improvement and so on.  All with a view to making Buying Solutions better equipped to deliver the programme and meet the needs of their stakeholders / customers.

Shields has a substantial team in OGC; it is not clear yet what is happening to them, but we understand some will certainly follow him to Buying Solutions, while others may stay in OGC / Cabinet Office or transfer to other Departments who may take the lead on certain spend categories within the programme.  While nothing is certain yet, it looks like there is a recognition that the category skills built up in the OGC teams are going to be pretty vital if the programme is going to deliver the targeted £3 Billion + savings.

The OGC team under Shields has acted as, in effect, a strategic level category group, developing overall strategies and plans for some key commodity areas, but not in most cases acting as the ‘delivery arm’ – something very much in Buying Solutions remit.  That split also enabled Shields’ team to act as ‘honest broker’ when it came to deciding who should carry out delivery roles – for example, should it be Buying Solutions or the regional ‘Professional Buying Organisations’ (PBOs) leading the contracting effort for a category?  But inevitably the split between core OGC and Buying Solutions sometimes caused confusion or tension, and arguably diluted scarce professional resources.

So given the need now to get on and drive some rapid savings to help bridge the budget deficit, this seems like a good move.  The issue of the PBOs still remains however; we’ll come back to that in a further post tomorrow, where we’ll also discuss some of the other challenges the programme, Shields, and Buying Solutions generally will face.

In the meantime, it strikes me that the ‘Centralising Category Procurement’ initiative now has the full weight of three very capable and energetic senior procurement people behind it.  I know there are people in the private sector who still have a poor view of public procurement (not helped by the distraction of the Greene report and certain pronouncements from coalition politicians).

But I can assure you that anyone meeting Littley, Shields and Collington– all of whom have worked extensively in the private sector – for the first time would be impressed by their intellect and drive and would certainly not perceive them as ponderous, 'traditional'  bureaucrats!

There are still major challenges ahead, but with the support of some equally strong people in key Departmental CPO roles now, senior level procurement capability in Whitehall really shouldn’t be a limiting factor in terms of making this work.  Stay tuned for further thoughts tomorrow.

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