Contract Management – top civil servants tell UK mandarins to get their act together

Way back in 2008 I worked with the UK’s National Audit Office on a review of contract management in central government departments.  The NAO published a report, which looked at six case studies and drew some general conclusions – which generally suggested that contract management needed more attention, resource and skills than we currently saw.  For instance: “Less than half the organisations surveyed had an individual with overall responsibility for contract management”.

In conjunction with the main report, we produced a contract management framework document to try and help define what contract management was all about and what good practice might look like.  It went down well initially, and there was talk of the Office of Government Commerce using it as a basis for training programmes and so on around government. but nothing really happened and after the 2010 election of course the energy all got focused on cost reduction.

I was proud of the Framework, as it was the first time I published my thinking on risk and opportunity being the foundation stones of contract management, as well as describing the detailed elements within contract management and also some thinking around prioritisation of effort.

So I was pleased last week to hear that the two most senior civil servants in the UK, Bob Kerslake and Jeremy Heywood,  have sent out a letter to every Permanent Secretary, saying that more attention needs to be paid to contract management, that they need to review their capability, and recommending the 2008 framework document.

‘The NAO published guidance on contract management in December 2008 and this remains a high quality reference guide for all Departments’, they say.

I haven’t got hold of the full letter  - I think it’s marked “Restricted”. But if anyone has a copy... But I understand it comes in the light of recent high profile contract management issues (such as the Ministry of Justice tagging and prisoner transport) and suggests that departments need to put greater effort into the area.

It’s also timely in that we’ve recently published the third and final paper (sponsored by BravoSolution) in our series titled “Building the Business Case for Contract Management”. The three short papers outline how we can make the case for investment in resources, skills or tools to help better contract management, and how to use the risk and opportunity concepts to build a convincing argument for investment.

So let’s hope this relaunch of the Framework has some effect.  And you can download copies of the various documents here (NAO material free; my reports free on registration).

 NAO report - Central government’s management of service contracts

NAO  - Good practice contract management framework

Building the Business Case for Contract Management Parts 1, 2 and 3

And here's a video too with me talking about contract management...

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Voices (3)

  1. life:

    Thanks for this – excellent and useful stuff. Contract management has to be the way forward in terms of “bang for our buck” (or “swoosh for our sterling”?), but just as difficult to pull off in terms of getting commitment to a structured, sustainable approach.

  2. Phoenix:

    Great move, Peter, there would be absolutely no point expending public resources to re-invent guidance when perfectly acceptable documents already exist.

    I might also remind readers about “You and Your Contractor”. Designed principally for practitioners in local government but useable in a wide range of public service applications, this manual of contract and relationship management (to which you personally contributed) is still available to download free from the London Councils website at:

    This is the second edition, published in June 2011. It’s easy-to-read and includes lots of real, toe-curling case studies to get your teeth into.

    Just one comment on Tom’s contribution – can/should contract management and supplier performance management really be separated?

  3. Tom Catuk:

    Really good points Peter.

    A dickie bird working within the Commercial Reform Programme that includes the creation of the new Crown Commercial Service tells me that Contract Management is very much part of the thinking in the new operating model: each category pillar within CCS will have dedicated Commercial Contract Management specialists in support of the managed procurement service. There will also be a separate but shared team dedicated to Supplier Performance Management – also arguably currently lacking as a capability centrally and locally.



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