UK Public Procurement – could health ideas inform procurement thinking? (Part 2)

(Here is part 2 of Dr Gordon Murray’s comparison of the recent UK Health Service report with what might be proposed for public procurement improvement – part 1 here).

 The NHS will see a super inspector introduced and challenging peer-reviews. The strange thing is that procurement capability reviews and IDeA Fitness Checks were stood down - perhaps they were set aside too early, or was it because there was insufficient attention paid to implementation of their recommendations?

"[In the NHS] in order to expose failure, recognise excellence and incentivise improvement, the Chief Inspector will produce a single aggregated rating for every NHS Trust. Because the patient experience will be central to the inspection, it will not be possible for hospital to get a good inspection result without the highest standards of patient care."

I don't think there is any doubt, even though it contradicts the decentralised government agenda, that the aggregated ranking approach could be applied to public procurement with the substitution of 'procurement' for 'patient care'. However, I do doubt that would be applied as, if it were, it is likely to highlight that central government procurement has frequently been the laggard in public procurement performance while it has often presented itself as the innovator.

Wouldn't it be interesting if, at the time of the next inquiry into public procurement, some local authorities were explaining how they had effectively and innovatively developed and embedded best practice - certainly my review of the Government Opportunities Awards entries suggests superior public procurement performance is in place within the wider UK public sector.

I have long sat in the camp which holds that if someone is paid well to lead procurement initiatives in the public sector, then they should also accept personal accountability. Therefore, if their performance is less than would have been expected, they should not be rewarded for failure and should carry their legacy of failure with them so that their potential risk to other employers and stakeholders is clear. So, I personally have no problem with the NHS having personal accountability and similarly that being applied in public procurement.

The media have picked up on the proposed new NHS statutory duty of candour. If public procurement is to progress I would suggest it also requires a similar statutory duty - candour on who are 'the blockers' to the implementation of procurement policy and change management initiatives, candour when errors in bid evaluations have been discovered but not admitted, candour when fraud or corruption is suspected, and candour when incompetence is present. Who would fear that? Surely only those who have stood in the way of procurement improvement for decades!

Then we have the need for prospective nurses to have a year of healthcare assistant experience. The nursing profession say "nurses are not too posh to wash". Would it make sense for prospective public sector CPOs to have had a year's experience of delivering basic purchasing. Yes, I mean basic buying. As a profession are we too posh to buy? My own view is that it has helped me to periodically take on basic purchasing roles as it has kept my feet on the ground and been a really useful refresh, if at times more difficult than I expected. So while I would not necessarily copy the 'one of' year's experience I think there may be merit is say, six months every six years.

I started by hypothesising what would be the impact if the proposals for healthcare improvement had inadvertently been mixed up with those for procurement improvement and we have ended up with what might have been Jeremy Hunt's recommendations for public procurement improvement. I conclude that there may well be a good case for directly copying the proposals for healthcare improvement to public procurement. I wonder if Bernard Jenkin, Chair of the PASC who have been reviewing public procurement, might be thinking something similar?

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Voices (3)

  1. Trevor Black:

    Isn’t it now acceptable practice to reward failure? We all know about banking but the City has for years rewarded CEOs for failure with mega bonuses and then when they resign are headhunted. It’s no co-incidence that failed Chancellors who have reeked havoc on the economy always find a place as a Non-Exec Director in the City. Why should the NHS be any different. I regret not being a failure which could have made me a very wealthy man!

    1. Dan:

      And i thought i was cynical….

  2. Andrew Hyams:

    I like the idea of a statutory duty of candour about botched procurements. The openness and honesty of DfT on the West Coast fiasco was refreshing, but is very much the exception rather than the rule. DWP have been doing all they can to avoid giving information about their botched procurement of the Universal Jobmatch service, despite having to re-run the tender and pay an undisclosed sum to one bidder to settle a legal challenge to the re-run. (See and for more info).

    I may be an idealist, but I think that if more departments admitted when things went wrong we would actually have more respect for them and perhaps they might learn some lessons.

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