A year in power – UK public sector procurement under the Coalition, part 1

So, it seems hard to believe, but the Conservative / LibDem coalition have been in office for exactly a year.  We avoid political pronunciations here as far as possible, but they have some notable achievements in terms of laying out a credible deficit reduction plan, and actually taking some cost reduction actions; a much needed reform of the benefits system, and controversial but promising schools initiatives. Other major issues such as reining back EU spend, the health service reforms and university policy have been maybe less successful to date.

But focusing purely on our procurement area of interest, how have they done? At the risk of jeopardising my OBE, here's our take on progress to date. We'll have 4 successes today, some 'not proven’ areas tomorrow, and then a couple of  disappointments to finish with. So starting with the positives.

Ministerial Involvement and commitment

Since I first got involved in public procurement in 1995, we have never had a Minister, let alone one of Francis Maude's standing, who has showed the interest and understanding of the topic that  Maude has. His personal involvement and drive has been behind much of the good stuff that has happened, and I know from people close to him that his grasp of the detail is impressive; he’s a real expert for instance on EU procurement law!

Transparency

There was much doubt around the transparency agenda - would it really happen, and if so, would it cause paralysis in the public sector? But the publication of spend, of contract documents, or organisation charts and salaries has gone ahead, and the world hasn't ended. And while we can question whether the strategy has really delivered benefits yet, and how it could be improved in order to do so, it was a brave step in what seems to us a very positive direction, with positive implications for open Government, cost management, and citizen empowerment.

Negotiations with top suppliers

We thought about putting this in the 'uncertain' bucket, but on balance it should be chalked up as a success, subject to National Audit Office verification of the savings. And even if there is some challenge on the amount, credit to the Government and those involved for being bold enough to at least try it, and for executing pretty well in our opinion (see our previous analysis of the initiative here).

Whitehall demand management and cost control

A major success. Real savings in areas such as consultancy, marketing and recruitment. Consulting spend for instance has dropped by well over 50%. Now, and this is for another day, we have a view that some negative effects of the spend reduction  are beginning to be seen - some half baked policies coming forward for instance that previously KPMG or PwC would have crawled all over and made bullet proof before launch. But any organisation in financial trouble needs to focus hard and fast on demand management, and Maude, Watmore et al have done this very effectively.

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