Lots of good stuff from UK government on procurement, and some concerns as well

Although we wrote about the government announcements on procurement on both Sunday and Monday, and we don't want to bore you rigid, there is a lot of content to consider in the full material now released. We need some time to digest the various speeches and accompanying material, so we'll come back with a more considered view in a few days.

In summary though, there is a lot to be positive about, not least the sheer focus that the government and Francis Maude continue to bring to bear on the topic. Publishing more data about forthcoming contracts must be good, the drive to shorten elapsed time for procurement is to be applauded, and the commitment to training and development of staff is admirable.

Of course you would expect some "buts" and they tend to fall into three categories -

- Stuff that isn't new where we might wonder what is going to happen to make it different this time - e.g. focus on outcomes, not the "how" of delivery, which we've been banging on about for years, at least since 1995 when I became a CPO in Government.

- Stuff that could be good but the devil is in the detail, and could also go wrong, such as the "licence to practice" and Academy ideas.

- Stuff that we think is fundamentally wrong or is being presented in a dangerous manner.

In that last category we'd include some of the comments around engaging with the market pre-procurement. We would suggest for instance, that this quote from Maude's speech is a licence for illegal and even corrupt procurement, and every procurement lawyer in the country will be rubbing their hands together in glee at the juicy court cases to come:

In future major procurements should only take place after we have spoken informally to our potential suppliers. So we can make swift off-the-shelf purchases where appropriate or quickly choose the right supplier for the job.

"Yes, well, M'Lud, you see I spoke to my brother in law, who is a really good supplier of these widgets, very informally like the Minister told me to, and Jim told me he had an off the shelf solution that is clearly the best in the market, so I did a quick procurement using his specification, and we did it all in 3 weeks flat. And that's how we came to pay him £10 million  and I had no idea the goods should only have cost £2 million!"

I know what Maude means, but he now needs to be very careful in defining how this engagement must work. I'm totally in favour of talking to suppliers pre-procurement, and I've advised many of my consulting clients as to how they can do it properly and legally, but giving people free licence for cosy fireside chats with favourite suppliers is not the way.

Anyway, that is a particular concern, but I don't want to detract from the good news - as I say, we'll come back for a more considered review later.

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Voices (2)

  1. Final Furlong:

    Another interesting framework from the Government Procurement Service…


  2. Rob:

    He needs to get much better (internal) advisers.

    He also need to get much better, more astute buyers in central government to avoid being taken to the cleaners by the much better, more commercially astute sellers (suppliers) who’ll be keen to shape and influence their early thinking.

    Seen it so often – can’t see it changing in the short term.

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