What would you do if you were Bill Crothers, Government’s Chief Procurement Officer? (Part 2)

Clare Grogan (look, we're not doing a picture of Bill Crothers twice in a week)

We started last Tuesday outlining our suggestions with four ideas for the relatively new government Chief Procurement Officer, Bill Crothers. Part 2 is slightly later than planned given certain train related events last week... but here are today’s four offerings. (You'll note there is nothing on Rail.. I'll save that for another day!)

1. Probably the most fundamental thought we have to offer – I would try and move the CPO focus somewhat away from purely “savings”.  I’d suggest that savings are now somewhat taken for granted, and being heavily demand management based, they are open to the challenge that no-one has measured the effect on services of some of the expenditure reductions. The government has proved it can slash expenditure on consultants, advertising, recruitment and capital investment. Well done – seriously, it needed doing and isn’t as easy as it sounds. But all the political capital that can be made of this activity is probably now made and banked. (And the “savings” argument is going to run into a credibility problem anyway at the next election as borrowing by the coalition through this term will be greater than that of any previous  government).

2. So thinking ahead to the next election, what the Government also needs is a stronger story on how they have used public procurement to promote growth, innovation, localism, and employment. Growth – or lack of it – is going to be THE big political story of the next two years, so if public procurement doesn’t get aligned to it, the influence of the CPO and the function will wane.  I don’t think Francis Maude’s heart is in that agenda yet to the same extent as he’s embraced savings, but I suspect he will see the political benefits of putting more effort into supporting that agenda.

3. So there are some immediate things Crothers can do. Challenge the Departments’ figures on spend with SMEs (smaller suppliers) for a start. If our minimal investigation can throw up examples like this level of inaccuracy from Ministry of Justice, then it needs a proper piece of work to see what is going on. And look at re-invigorating the innovation agenda – the Launch Pad was a decent idea but more action is needed. More could be done around research funds and the like as well to support small and innovative firms. The work on Mutuals is positive but isn’t going to be enough on its own t o provide a convincing narrative in this whole area.

4. And I’d suggest Crothers puts visits to Wales and Scotland high on his priority list to see what those national Governments have done in terms trying to promote growth and local business. (Maude got exposed on this in his Radio Four interview a couple of months back). He can’t and shouldn’t  copy everything, but they have taken some steps that could be replicated in England – for instance in the way that they incorporate social issues into tender evaluation, or their risk based approach to PQQs. “Scotland to incorporate social value in public procurement” was the headline recently. Wales do this already as a matter of course. And you can’t argue that Edinburgh or Cardiff need this more than Rochdale or Tower Hamlets...

So good luck to Mr Crothers. I’m still hoping and trying to get an interview with him as well....

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