Kelly, Collier and Crothers at the Public Administration Select Committee on Procurement (part 3)

(Continuing our review of the UK Parliament’s Public Administration Select Committee hearing into procurement with Sally Collier, Bill Crothers and Stephen Kelly, from the Cabinet Office...  parts 1 and 2 here and here)

Suppliers say we could help more if you talked to us – is that true? For those who aren’t in the “magic circle” that is true, says Crothers. We should do more with innovative, small firms. Quite possible, not limited by legal constraints. Collier says practice is changing positively on pre-procurement.

Got a service that was £4M from the oligopoly for less than £100,000, claims Kelly. We passed the “keys to the castle” to the suppliers, thought we could really transfer risk which we can’t. Very true.

MP raises the previous presentation from the US military man with his FIST acronym (fast, inexpensive simple, timely  - we will come back to that at some stage). Our procurement is Complex, Random, Asinine, Prodigious, he says (best acronym-based joke of the day)!

Collier wants to split up contracts to help SMEs, particularly in IT, mentions G-Cloud, abolishing PQQs for low value contracts. Need people to have confidence to change the way they let contracts.  Contracts Finder is working, many thousands of contracts been advertised, 30% gone to SMEs. Great data there, we could mine data better, can still improve.  Collier tries to explain difference between contracts by number and value. Data on indirect spend down the supply chain with SMEs is also important. (That will be their get-out clause on the 25% target of course).

We’ll be hugely disappointed if SMEs figures haven’t improved in two years time according to Kelly and Collier. Jenkin now raises the point we keep making about SPVs for PFI projects being included in the data for SMEs!  Good man.  Crothers cuts in on Collier who is waffling a bit and simply says no,  it is not appropriate, we need to get better data.  That was well handled by him.

Finally we get a bit on EU rules. We have rules, we do need rules, we are influencing EU Commission to get simpler and more flexible rules. And procurement people like process – it gives them confidence. Need to talk about and focus on the stuff outside the process –  thinking outcomes and value instead. It is not as much of a constraint as some people think. Rules do make system more complicated but we can get better value within the rules. Very good response from Collier and Crothers here.

An interesting session all in all. I thought Crothers and Collier came over pretty well, particularly as they warmed up towards the end. Kelly got a bit exposed in a couple of areas, perhaps not surprisingly given his lack of significant procurement (or indeed public sector) background. But he was good on risk and project management.  The answers around skills were a little flaky and lacking in real substance, the team were better on issues around handling major suppliers, data, need for culture change.

There was a lot of criticism of the skills of civil servants – a bit of blame transference from GPS  to the departments I thought, fair in parts but maybe it went too far at times. Perhaps if Procurement Capability Reviews hadn’t been killed off (by the last government to be fair) things would be better.

The overall frustration with the session and the whole PASC process really is the lack of follow though and depth, particularly when it is such a huge topic as this. Because the Committee tried to cover a lot of ground, and every member had their own issues, it felt like no sooner did we get into a topic, then it was dropped and we moved on.

And there was one other big question I was left with, around the role of strategic suppliers to the public sector  - we'll have a post on that shortly.

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  1. life:

    Many thanks Peter for following and commenting on this. Massively important subject for about 80% of the political debate at the moment – but – little to no coverage elsewhere!

    I’m not sure if this is the uplift we need but if anyone is in the mood for a bit of piquant “plus ca change” how about this classic 2004 vintage Gershon, – albeit with a bit more certainty on the qualifications front….!

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