Report on COI / UK Government marketing is weak on procurement opportunities

'Final Furlong'beat me to this with a comment here on the COI report (at the very bottom of the post) so you might want to read that as well as this!

The report by Matt Tee, the outgoing Permanent Secretary of the Central Office of Information (COI), on Government Communications, was published last week. His big recommendation is to form a new 'Quango', the Government Communications Centre (GCC) to replace COI. GCC would centralise work, and pull communications staff out of Departments leading to cuts of about 15% in their numbers on top of what Departments are already planning.

But the report is disappointing in terms of procurement content. There's vague discussion of payment by results in a "it's a good thing and we should all sit around and talk about how we might do it" sense.

Apart from that, the report assumes that basically everything COI currently does in terms of procurement - mainly putting frameworks for marketing services in place for general use - is fine, and will pretty much continue as now.  Well, I don't believe it is fine from much of what I hear; for a start, COI frameworks are too large and unwieldy to be used under 'new' regulations requiring mini-competitions; and anyway, don't we all now accept that frameworks without committed volume don't give VFM? Ian Watmore has said this publicly.

And when one COI framework has over 60 firms on it - do we really think that achieved anything much from a value perspective?  (Now there are ways of getting that commitment and value through clever use of mini-competitions, but that's another story, and I've seen no evidence of COI being at the leading edge of that thinking).

The report frankly doesn't show much interest in procurement at all, and when it does it is assertion rather than analysis.

"The benefits of aggregated central procurement for marketing and communication services are clear and quantifiable".

Are they? Where? Show me the evidence that COI framework rates are better than I could go and negotiate myself (with my committed volume).

"It is also clear to me that a GCC central marketing-procurement function will need close professional links with the ERG government procurement team"

Why not locate the procurement activity in ERG with CCG acting as the stakeholder / client; as happens with marketing procurement in most of the best practice procurement organisations in the private sector?

"I endorse the ERG guideline that communication services should only be bought through government-approved frameworks, overseen by OGC".

OGC? Oh yes, I remember them.... and back to the point above, haven't you heard that the new boss don't much like frameworks...

I can't comment on the strength of the more marketing and comms type recommendations. But from a procurement perspective, this looks like a wasted opportunity, so I hope some smart procurement people in the new CPO team are going to get hold of this spend category and look at it properly.

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Voices (4)

  1. Rob:

    Having an artistic background, with a passion for all things related to the arts, film, media etc, I came across this article with an interesting perspective on the closure of the COI.

    Savings in the bank maybe, but certainly a few treasures heading for the vault…

  2. Alex R:

    This is a balance between addressing the lack of skills and totally unprofessional procurement practices present in some departments on one hand – and making the departments feel they have their own responsive AND proactive comms resource to call on. If they don’t feel that, they will simply get round it, like Christine says, by directly appointing quasi-comms people under other titles and procuring off-liste comms services from non-framework suppliers. Which defeats the whole object.

    I do worry that centralising comms resource will result in a pecking order where the big high spending departments get the best service, and everyone else has to get in line/pick up the leftovers.

  3. Christine Morton:

    I can’t help but think this is going to be dreadful for the internal departmental stakeholders who need comms. Centralising it will mean the loss of the personal relationship, which means that there will be problems understanding priorities and urgencies in responding to communications needs. My bet is that people (being people) will try to find a work-around for these reasons, and defeat the purpose of setting up the new organisation.

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