Francis Maude say UK public procurement is rubbish – learn from France and Germany

Francis Maude, the UK Cabinet Office Minister, was on the BBC Andrew Marr show this morning and spoke briefly about public sector procurement - we understand that there are going to be some big announcements tomorrow.

He said "we have the worst of both worlds" in that we're not very good at public procurement AND we play by the rules so we don't favour our own UK firms - he compared the UK unfavourably with France and Germany. Here is a fairly accurate transcript of part of his comment.

"We're very legalistic, we have very big contracts, we don't buy very well and we exclude a lot of innovative companies who tend to be UK based. So neither do we get good value nor support UK businesses. France and Germany aren't protectionist but they do this much better and we're drawing from their experience".

He mentioned SMEs (small firms) as being "frozen out" of government business. We've written at some length about the issue and while so far this Government has introduced some worthwhile initiatives, there haven't been the fundamental changes in approach that will be necessary to really drive SME uptake of government contracts.

But it is interesting that CIPS is expanding globally in the developing world based on the reputation of UK public sector procurement - Maude needs to be a bit careful that he's not talking down what is actually a UK export success story. I wonder whether CIPS will push back at all on his comments?

He's also vulnerable to another charge here. OK, if we accept his criticism, agree it's not very good - but Mr Maude, you've been in charge of it for 18 months now, why haven't you sorted it out yet? You've centralised a big slug of it - so is it your own team who "don't do it very well"?

Andrew Marr didn't ask him that unfortunately.

Of course public procurement can be improved in many ways - but I am surprised to see the UK being compared unfavourably to other EU countries, and Maude's comments are not very motivating for the many hard-working professionals around the public sector.  I guess we'll have to wait and see the announcements tomorrow.

Breaking news

Stephen Guy, Head of Procurement for Arcadia Group, has been appointed Director of Sourcing for the Government Procurement Service. The Sunday Times makes it sound like this is the top government  procurement job, which of course it isn’t, and says it comes “with a budget of £5 billion this year”, which it doesn’t.  It is the role we described here, reporting to David Shields, who himself reports to John Collington, Government CPO.  It is an important role, but not exactly top dog.

Guy will hold a budget of a few million, not billion – the rest is around influencing spend placed by government departments.

The Sunday Times also reports that tomorrow Francis Maude will “unveil plans to simplify and speed up government contracts, promising an end to the current “short-sighted and risk-averse” approach..... Civil servants will be encouraged to talk to the private sector before contract negotiations start. Maude said the present system was slow and expensive. “There is a myth that you cannot talk to suppliers ahead of the award process,” he said. Civil servants will publish online a “pipeline” of projects, with £50 billion of deals eventually available.


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Voices (17)

  1. Dr Nick Price:

    Haven’t we just had 20 odd years of the de-centralisation mantra? The Next Steps initiative and the privatisation/agency-fication of executive arms of government were all about how much more efficient it was to do your procurement locally, freed up from Treasury constraints. And of course it was this lot (well the Conservatives anyway), who started it all off with the “Efficiency Unit”. Odd how decentralisation was more efficient then and centralisation more efficient now; it couldn’t be political expedient could it?

  2. Phoenix:

    You would hope that CIPS would leap to the defence of members working in the public sector, citing the many and varied examples of top notch practice. In reality, though, I expect David Noble as CEO may find this difficult as he is working so closely with Government on its Procurement Review Board. Doubtless being right in there is good for CIPS’ business interests, but here’s an example of where the CEO could perhaps have served members better by operating at arm’s length. It’s another case, like the review of CIPS governance coming up for the vote next week, where CIPS as a business seems to be taking priority over CIPS as a representative body of its ordinary paying members. You wouldn’t see the BMA taking criticism of doctors like this lying down.

    1. Final Furlong:

      Given that the Deputy CPO is also President of CIPS, don’t hold your breath…

  3. huhh?:

    Some of it true though – £500m on consultants at the MoD doesn’t smack of great procurement practice.

  4. De-motivated:

    I totally agree with the previous comments. I was very disappointed to hear Francis Maude’s comments yesterday and feel they were ill informed and insulting to the many good professional procurement staff working in the public sector. Maybe if the Government stopped giving conflicting agenda’s to public procurement staff, such as centralise and aggregate all spend v’s awarding contracts to SME’s who cannot meet the requirements of such large public sector wide contracts, things may improve!

  5. Final Furlong:

    Is this the same Stephen Guy who was part of the team brought in by Philip Green (also of Arcadia) to scribe that p*ss poor ‘review’ of government procurement?

    I did hear that Green’s procurement team were actually impressed by what they found – so perhaps he’s seen the light. Can’t be that exciting buying ‘shop fit-outs’ on a national scale (given that he didn’t cover any merchandising in his previous role ie: what Acadia actually sells…). Great catch for GPS though – as you implied Peter, they need a strong person to support the person who supports the person who leads all commodity purchasing across central government. (Let’s hope he likes delegation…)

    Taking aside the few billion of Guy’s budget that he won’t be managing – I noted, on the show, that Minister Maude quoted that government spend is now “something like £230 billion” – you would think that the team advising him (providing him with his ‘briefing pack’) would have provided him with an accurate figure! I thought ‘data’ was now King in GPS?

    The problem in relation to SMEs, Minister Maude, is not Local/wider Government, but Central Government. (Take a look at the stats.) Clean up your own backyard and you’ll go some way to convincing the rest of us…

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