David Cameron says ‘we want lots more procurement’

Well, that's not exactly what he said, but that would be the result of what he said. In the Telegraph today, he's talking about increasing choice by enabling public services to be delivered by charities or private organisations. And there should be a “new presumption that services should be delivered at the lowest possible level” to give people more choice over how their public services are being administered. It is pretty radical stuff and would be a big change if it comes to pass.

It would mean more personal budgets in areas such as social care, and more involvement of private or third sector organisations potentially in education, health, council services such as parks, libraries, maintenance. He's talking really about the public sector becoming the commissioner of services rather than the primary delivery vehicle.  As he says, the role of the state is redefined as ensuring “fair funding, ensuring fair competition, and ensuring that everyone – regardless of wealth – gets fair access”.

We won't comment on the politics or policy behind this, but of course it would hugely increase the amount of public procurement activity in the UK. (I might even have to get my old consulting uniform out of the wardrobe).  And that of course does raise some issues.

Do we have the capacity or the skills to do all these new competitions? Or to manage the providers once they are in place?  (Bearing in mind the public sector has probably been weaker at contract management than at contract letting). If things are done at the lowest possible level, who manages the competition for running my local park? What will managing competition and external provision cost? How do we make sure that we don't see low-level local corruption in awarding these local contracts; or indeed that we don't find Capita and Serco running the whole country in 10 years time? Where will the (contract related) checks and balances be?

So, lots of questions, and of course this is just one article in a newspaper. But if it does happen, excellent news for local government procurement staff! Your jobs are safe forever...

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