Francis Maude speech on public procurement (part 3) – some ideas

So, summing up on UK Cabinet Minister Francis Maude's public procurement speech last week... we featured the aspects of it we liked here, and the elements that we're less positive about here.

Our overall take is that he has gained a lot of respect amongst the public procurement community over the last 18 months. This speech was far from a disaster, but in our opinion didn't move him and the Government forwards in terms of that credibility.

It contained some very good points, although there was nothing that could be identified as a genuinely new idea. Lean, outcome based procurement, better training; it’s all good stuff but not exactly new.

Where there was at least a new angle on these topics, such as the “Commissioning Academy”, the plans are too vague to assess likely success. Meanwhile, the overdone criticism of public procurement and the rather strange “anti-UK bias” claim didn’t in our opinion do any favours.  It smacked of political posturing, in effect going back to painting the picture of the mess left behind by the previous Government.

But as we move into phase 2 of this government, that becomes a dangerous tactic.  If we divide the 5-year term into three, you might classify it as follows:

Phase  1 – assess what you’ve inherited, blame previous Government, plan ahead.

Phase 2  - get on with delivery. Actually do stuff...

Phase 3 – positioning for next election. Tell everyone what you’ve achieved.

So we are just moving from Phase 1 to Phase 2 now -  January 5th 2012 will mark one-third of the way through the government’s term assuming it runs its full course.  So 19 months into Maude’s rule over Whitehall procurement, it’s getting close to the point where one might say “well, if it’s so bad, why haven’t you sorted it out yet”? Our advice, for what it is worth, is to keep away from the rhetoric and how dreadful procurement currently is (or was), and focus on real, evidenced achievements. And there are some real success stories to report.

And it is very easy to sit here and criticise. What would I actually do differently?

Well, for a start, I might invite a bit more input from outside – the cut in consulting spend was necessary but it does mean there is limited thinking coming in from outside Cabinet Office.  If I were Mr Maude, I might arrange a meeting with Jon Hughes and Professor Marc Day for a start.  Then to be more specific, we would suggest three big themes;

  • If you are serious about SMEs, (and I should say there are pros and cons here), you need something more dramatic than the actions so far. Actually and visibly breaking national contracts down into regional; or getting every Department to produce a plan showing how they WILL hit the 25% target... make it one of the Permanent Secretaries' bonus objectives perhaps? And there may be more radical things that can be done (see our Procurement Activism series).
  • The next wave of savings however needs to come largely from existing major contracts. The top suppliers  initiative was a very positive step – but it is now clearly under-resourced, having delivered the first wave of savings. A proper SRM programme is required, with governance, process, plans, targets..
  • I understand why Maude is focusing on Whitehall, but that is at most 25% of total spend. Meanwhile, who at the very top level is driving better procurement in health, education, local government, or even MOD (who seem to sit pretty much outside the Cabinet Office remit)? Central buying of office supplies and travel, purely for the 18 central Departments, won’t be enough of a story by May 2015 we would suggest. A new drive is needed here.

Just to re-iterate, Maude is the most knowledgeable, committed and involved Minister we have ever had in government with a procurement remit. (Some of the previous Ministers supposedly in charge of the area could barely spell OGC).  As taxpayers, we’d just like him to succeed, really.  Our criticisms are intended to be constructive, and we're not looking politically at this at all. But last week’s speech did not move things forward as much as we would have hoped.

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Voices (2)

  1. woodbine:

    I think I was a beneficiary of Buying Solutions’ largesse in Newz.

    A cheese sandwich at lunchtime. No sign of Ms Cole or Ms Clancy.

  2. Final Furlong:

    Totally agree re: Minister Maude – very impressive chap.

    Still needs to clean up his own backyard though….the excuse that “it didn’t take place on my watch” just won’t wash…

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