Friday Rant: OGC – heroes or villains?

A positive rant rather than a negative today!

There are more letters in Supply Management this week criticising OGC (the Office of Government Commerce) for not doing enough to improve capability in UK government procurement.

I have to declare an interest as OGC are a client and I know many people there.   But trying to be fair, let's consider the task OGC takes on;  that of improving procurement, project and estates management across government.  That is a mere £180 billion annual spend; across several thousand separate organisations; and some 10,000+ public sector procurement staff plus countless others involved in the wider procurement process, let alone estates and project management.  All with only limited authority over central government and none at all over devolved local authorities, schools, universities, health trusts and police forces.

OGC produces extensive guidance (available on what is, quite simply, the most useful procurement website in the world);  runs hundreds of Gateway reviews a year as well as Major Project and Procurement Capability Reviews; negotiates public policy on behalf of the UK in Brussels;  runs the Government Procurement Service and the Programme and Projects Management Profession; leads on Property matters across government and runs the e-Pims property database; runs a collaborative procurement programme that has delivered huge savings across categories such as Fleet and Energy; leads on environmental sustainability across government;  and drives best  practice across a huge area of procurement practice (from use of SMEs to competitive dialogue, and contract management to financial assessment of suppliers).

It is an impressive list and I have no doubt it adds value many times the cost of running OGC.  And all this while dealing with stakeholders across the public sector who range from the very co-operative to the frankly hostile (and I speak from painful experience ...)

It seems to me that OGC does at times try and do too much with the resources it is given, I don't agree with all their decisions and I would prioritise somewhat differently across their portfolio of activities,  but it is also hard to see what could easily be cut without some negative consequences.

And it would be very helpful for instance if they had the resource to carry out more direct training and capability development to complement the published guidance, as some Supply Management correspondents commented.  Or to employ more highly experienced, top level procurement people to drive faster progress.  But doing either would require a bigger budget, which is unlikely at a time when public money is tight.  It is all about allocation of scarce resources; and generally, they manage that allocation thoughtfully and well.  So while criticism is healthy, it would be good if it were also constructive (which it often isn't); and let’s give credit to OGC where it is due.

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First Voice

  1. Steve Jackson:

    The Friday Rant – Part II


    Your piece on OGC gives me an opportunity to break my duck on the Blog. As an OGC Procurement Capability Reviewer I might be perceived to be a tad partial, but I wanted to make a very simple point on how OGC and the big Departments could improve Public sector procurement with almost no additional effort.

    As an interim head of profession I’m working with a Trading Fund to deliver a more strategic and internally valued procurement team focussed on commerciality, value creation and reducing process effort. This assignment is not unusual, and collaboration with bigger buyers is an obvious way to access common goods and services quickly, economically and easily. In common with many full time Civil Service colleagues, I wonder how easy it is for professional buyers to understand the frameworks and call off contracts that are available to them.

    As we move into a more uncertain budgetary environment, managers need to target the most risky, challenging and rewarding activities. Therefore what is the point of committing resources to the same activities as colleagues down the road with the same suppliers?

    My team is not proud about doing things itself, it wants to focus on those categories that will enable us to compete. We use Buying Solutions and our parent Department’s deals and we are replacing a multitude of suppliers with a prime agreement brokered by two central government big players. But, it’s not always easy to track deals down, in fact we quite often ask suppliers how we can get to them. This seems a bit wrong. It is how we found a Local Authority from the other end of the country who have been a really helpful reference and kindly let us use their open agreement.

    So here is my plea. Come on big players, make it easier for us to join in. We don’t want to do it all ourselves and if any public sector procurement professionals have enabling contracts that could be used, it would be great to hear from you. It must be worth a job coordinating collaboration, I’ve already saved enough to fund one or two or three……….

    Wishing you a great Christmas and a cost reducing New Year

    Steve Jackson

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