Kelly, Collier and Crothers at the Public Administration Select Committee on Procurement

Sally Collier, Bill Crothers and Stephen Kelly, Cabinet Office procurement leaders, appeared before the UK Parliament's Public Administration Select Committee last  Monday.  You can watch it all again here - and this is part 1 of our review of the session...

How’s progress, asks Bernard Jenkin, MP, the Chair of the Committee.

Made a good start, still in foothills, huge amount still to do, says Kelly. Crothers has noticed difference in last few years.  This government managing commercial relationships with large suppliers better, more joined up, take past performance into account. The Crown is the client. Big change. Collier says government focus on procurement is greater than any time in last 20 years. (She’s absolutely right).

Kelly wants suppliers to offer outstanding service, at much reduced cost. Want best VFM, government has paid too much. Suppliers also contribute to national goals.

Jenkin – “not madly enthused” – response lacks granularity. They get into spend data, Crothers tries to explain where the money goes. He says suppliers have  been ripping off Government, charging more than they do to their private sector clients. (Might that be because the cost of doing business with government is higher? No-one asks that unfortunately). But we have better data now although “it takes 3 months to get the data”.  Discussion going down a bit of a data rabbit hole now.

Now we’re onto the centralised initiative. How should the dividing line be established between central / devolved procurement? Good question, Mr Chairman. (The answer is we need proper category strategies, which would look at the best way of structuring the procurement activity and who should do what ).  But  Kelly doesn’t answer it and takes us back to the price of computer cables – that was a strategic question that they’ve taken back to a tactical answer.

Government Departments won’t share information about some IT deal – based on legal advice. That’s interesting, would like to know who that is and why?

Now back to IT suppliers ripping us off, poor performance. With the collusion of government lawyers.  What does the Permanent Secretary of Cabinet Office make of that accusation – as he is also head of the government’s legal service – and the ultimate boss of these people?

Now they’re talking about the £800 Million savings from the top supplier initiative. (Jenkin could have quoted the NAO report back at them at this point). But we move on very quickly from that point. My goodness, this is flitting from issue to issue now like the Blue Tits on our cherry tree in Spring... no real depth on any single point, as soon as it gets interesting we’re off again!

Getting better now – Crothers thinks all contracts should be published in full. Collier says it is happening but some information is redacted by departments – “commercial in confidence”.  (Jenkin says that doesn’t happen in the USA, it is all published – is that right?) But we’ve moved on before we can explore that properly. Now it’s Mr Flynn on how EDF are ripping us off on energy costs – not a procurement issue really.  (I got some of that when I appeared in front of the committee).

What do the team think of the Crown Procurement Service idea - the single organisation?

Kelly says we will have an expansion of the Crown representatives idea – but then he says “yes “ when asked directly about the “Crown Procurement” idea.  Really???

Crothers then says there are exceptions. Phew.  Copier paper to the MOD front line? (Oh good, we’ve got to copier paper, really strategic stuff). Some things are unique and should stay with departments, he confirms.

That’s enough for now – I’m getting a little  frustrated watching this because of the disjointed nature of the discussion, can’t get anything in real depth. But more later this week...

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Voices (2)

  1. Dan2:

    “Crothers thinks all contracts should be published in full”.

    FOI to Cabinet Office of all their contracts let then?

  2. Helen Lumb:

    I watched it also expecting a good healthy debate and like you was sadly disappointed. I’ve been in public procurement for over 28 years in several Depts. and seen many changes – some really needed and some knee jerk. Wasn’t impressed with the civil servant bashing either – we are a good bunch really!

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