CIPS and Maude – a strong push-back on a narrow procurement vision

After Francis Maude, Minister in the UK Cabinet Office with responsibility for public procurement spoke recently at the PASC and made his worrying comments about procurement being the “bit in the middle” (see here and here), we hoped CIPS might respond on behalf of the profession.

And now David Noble, the Chief Executive, has done so. As well as picking up on that narrow view of procurement, Noble raises some notes of caution around the centralising programme.

“... we are disappointed to have heard the recent evidence from the Rt Honourable Francis Maude MP, ... that portrays Government procurement as a narrowly focussed and technical activity sandwiched between developing an understanding of supply markets and contract management.

There still remains an ingrained mis-understanding about true value of procurement in the public sector sphere. The focus on ‘tactical’ procurement initially is disappointing. Yes, centralising this ‘tactical’ element in theory is a sensible move – but we stress the need for caution – making assumptions around standardisation and economies of scale are not easy to address”.

We’re with him on that – of course, there should be considerable collaboration going on in government procurement, but there is a danger that Cabinet Office gets to the point of pursuing some centralisation more for political or self-aggrandising reasons, rather than to drive proven business benefits.

Noble also raises the issue of the external, non-procurement people appointed as Crown Commercial Representatives – a balanced view from him here, and he brings up the issue of skills transfer that we also raised.

“The Crown Representative model has provided a level of focus and commercial capability to drive a more joined up approach to managing large, complex and dispersed relationships with major suppliers. It is therefore important when focusing on the recruitment of more senior managers from outside the profession that they understand the true skills of the profession and are not just making the ‘deals’. So far it is unclear how the large pool of talented procurement professionals within Government are being developed to take on these important roles and to build internal knowledge and a sustainable capability”.

And I like his closing remark.

“ Procurement professionals are doing more than just paper buying or even managing significant IT contracts – welfare, medical equipment, defence procurement, waste management, education sector – the list is endless and the breadth is so much wider - this isn’t about negotiating with a handful of suppliers and simplifying price structures. This is about value, shaping markets, creating new enterprises, stimulating growth and finding sustainable ways to reduce the budget deficit”.

Well done to Noble and CIPS, and it will be interesting to see if this has any effect on the thinking in Cabinet Office. And you can read the whole article on the CIPS website here.

One final thought.  The circumstances of David Shields departure are still not clear, and indeed I wonder if Mr Maude really knows what happened? And does he realise how big a blow it is to GPS? Perhaps not. But he's lost a key person there, he's already got the big department CPOs getting increasingly concerned about the Cabinet Office land grab - and he's now lost CIPS support.  Interesting times.

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  1. Phoenix:

    At last, David Noble stands up for the profession when it’s called for. He’s not always been quick to do that, leaving himself and CIPS open to the accusation of working too closely with Maude & Co. The cynic in me still wonders if this is because CIPS’s income from government work has fallen again, but I welcome it anyway. It’s been a long time, though – CIPS said absolutely nothing back in 2010 when Cameron called us “the enemy of enterprise.”

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