How companies try and influence Government and the role of procurement

This article by James Forsyth in the Spectator is a fine piece of writing and analysis, and essential reading for every public sector procurement person. And indeed for anyone who complains that the public sector should be more “flexible” or “commercial” in their procurement, should abandon procurement policies and procedures, take short cuts, back industrial winners, support SMEs or local firms who don’t objectively deserve contracts....

It highlights the whole business of influence around how companies get their share of the vast riches that the public sector, even in these straightened times, still doles out to suppliers. As Forsyth says,

There are £12 billion worth of NHS computer systems that can be ordered then abandoned, wind farms to be subsidised, and contracts to find work for the unemployed. The tiniest change in government policy can be worth millions to this company or that, giving firms a huge interest in finding ingenious ways to try and tilt things in their favour.

The methods for subverting what we would see as legitimate and proper procurement and business processes are many.  The generous salary for ex civil servants or Ministers who go off to join industry the minute they’re out of the door – a particular problem still in Defence, but we’ve seen it in Transport, Welfare to Work markets and elsewhere. Getting access to Minsters at conferences or events. And as the article points out, it erodes trust in politicians as well as potentially leading to bad procurement and resource allocation decisions. Here’s how Forsyth wraps up his excellent article.

Cameron has taken some steps towards dealing with this culture. He has introduced far greater transparency about who ministers and their advisers meet. But so far his actions haven’t been proportionate to the challenge. If he isn’t prepared to do what’s necessary to sweep away the web of influence that has already claimed the reputation of his defence secretary, then it might end up entangling his whole government.

And procurement people are often the unsung heroes here – getting flack from colleagues because of “tedious” procurement processes or scorned for trying to stop suppliers getting meetings with the wrong people at the wrong time in the procurement cycle.  Whichever country you’re in, stick to your guns, guys and girls – you are doing your bit to keep your country and public sector as free from corruption as you can!

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First Voice

  1. huhh?:

    I was approached recently by somebody who “went to University” with a senior government minister.. and works for a “reputable” lobbying firm.

    Pay his company – he will peddle access. The culture needs fixing, seems rotten at the moment.

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