Francis Maude speech on public procurement (part 1) – the good

So we’ve had a week to digest Francis Maude’s speech on public procurement. What were the good, the bad and ugly points we can take from it?

Well before we start, we have to recommend you go and read this from  Dr Gordon Murray. He is that unusual animal – a real procurement practitioner and academic, who has been steeped in public procurement for some considerable time.  And he’s published an excellent review of the speech, looking very analytically at sources of evidence, and the relationship between Maude’s announcements and past initiatives.

So .. what was our take on good stuff in the speech?

  • Encouraging lean procurement and more efficiency in procurement processes must be good news (although as Dr Murray points out, it’s not new news).  Setting a target of 120 days for most procurement exercises isn’t a bad idea, although there’s no real way of policing it – the Cabinet Office isn’t going to shut down a procurement after that time if it isn’t quite finished!
  • The focus on training and capability is to be welcomed, although the “Commissioning Academy” brings a few concerns as well in terms of confusion about terminology and therefore real purpose (see tomorrow’s instalment). And who is going to train all these people? Is it going to be real leading edge experts or just the usual suspects?
  • Negotiating with the European Commission for a radical simplification of the public procurement Directives to reduce costs for business and for procurers is of course to be welcomed. We’ve comented positively on most of the UK’s goals through this process.
  • Publishing forward programmes is a good but not new idea – it was certainly proposed in the Kelly report way back in 2003. And what has been published so far doesn’t look like it has enough detail to be truly useful to suppliers. But it is a good intent.
  • Contracts Finder seems to be gaining some traction in terms of advertising low value contract opportunities, which is good news.
  • Encouraging procurement people to “talk to suppliers” is good in concept. (But.. see tomorrow). And of course Maude is absolutely right to say this;

“Far too many procurements feature absurdly over-prescriptive requirements. We should be procuring on the basis of the outcomes and outputs we seek, not the detailed inputs. We should be focusing on the "what", not the "how".”

But again, it’s not new, we’ve been talking about this since I was in government procurement in the 90s.

So plenty of good ideas, even if they're not all brand spanking new; tomorrow we'll look at the elements of the speech we were less sure about.

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