Maude Lays Into Civil Service – But Did His Procurement Reforms Work?

Francis (Lord) Maude, ex Minister for the Cabinet Office and de facto “minister for procurement” from 2010-15 has laid into the civil service.  Civil Service World reports:

Discussing the future of the civil service as part of a lecture series hosted by the speaker of the House of Commons, he said he had been lied to by officials, and that reforms started while he was in office were being quietly rolled back by “departmental barons”.

In another interesting quote, he claims that ministerial decisions were not always heeded: “On one occasion I asked a cross-departmental group of officials why a Cabinet Committee’s very clear decision had simply been ignored. The answer? 'We didn’t think it was a very strong mandate'.  What on earth do you need? A Papal Bull?”

We think he may be referring there to the move to centralise procurement of common goods and services to Crown Commercial Service. We have heard from other sources that he felt senior procurement folk ignored the first “directive”.

The irony of course is that the move to centralise procurement has been something of a disaster to date. Malcom Harrison and the new team at Crown Commercial Service have been busy unwinding much of the work that went on under Maude. Now perhaps he sees that as the departmental civil servants pushing back, but both the National Audit Office and Harrison (as an independent outsider initially) felt that the centralisation was badly conceived and executed. So maybe those officials who resisted his entreaties initially had a good point.

Maude undoubtedly achieved some good things in his time, including work on the digital agenda and his focus on major government suppliers, and he is right we think to highlight that there has been a loss of focus in certain areas.  But there are areas where initiatives such as the creation of the government commercial function have continued to build on his legacy, and his overall criticism seems harsh.

That’s because in other areas, we would argue, he failed pretty comprehensively. His reforms of civil service pensions were “a cop out”, didn’t save money, and “did nothing to bridge the huge and increasing gulf between public sector and private sector” schemes according to John Ralfe, the industry expert (writing in the FT).  The shared services programme for back-office processing has been another failure, and we don’t perceive that his support for creating more mutuals has really achieved much.

So his own legacy is very mixed. Perhaps John Manzoni or Sir Jeremy Heywood (our top mandarins) should give a lecture and go through the Maude initiatives, commenting on their lasting success or otherwise. That would be fun …

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Voices (2)

  1. 'I used to be important once!':

    I was one of the ‘Cross Departmental Officials’ at this often cited meeting and indeed one who questioned (very politely of course, and whilst being shouted at) the timing, value proposition, practicality, and the strength of this ‘mandate’ along with another department’s procurement head and a close friend of Spend Matters. The decision wasn’t ignored but we felt it needed more ‘work’ and a more appropriate investment case put forward. My point was that the mandate appeared to have come from a poorly attended Cabinet Committee where, I was informed by another Minister, the proposition had neither been fully explained, questioned or indeed debated and was requested to be passed ‘on the nod’.

  2. Bill Atthetill:

    Let’s take a quick trip back in time.

    If you recall, John Collington (very nice but deluded chap, and ex-colleague of Bill Crothers in Home office) once publicly stated “my boss is bigger than your boss” when attempting to implement reform in procurement across Central Government as Chief Procurement Officer. He was referring to his boss Maude (Minister without portfolio) and his peers – Departmental Commercial Directors. The Commercial Directors completely ignored this because their bosses were Perm Secretaries and their boss was Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service. No ‘politician’ could tell a senior civil servant what they should/should not do within their own Department. Deluded.

    So, along came Wild Bill Crothers who spotted this flaw, and engaged Jeremy Heywood in telling Perm Secs that he was their boss, and that Commercial Directors should get on board with the plan of allowing the new(?) Crown Commercial Service to absorb all of their mid-to-back office procurement. And embrace shared services (and shared data services et al). Simple idea but completely deluded because every Department’s procurement function was structured fundamentally differently. A good example was the DWP and estates, IT etc…and that small yet simple Department called the MOD.

    However, a key ingredient of leadership is ‘engendering followship’ and no-one wanted to follow Bill (aside from those who worked for him directly whom he promoted into positions they didn’t deserve or weren’t experienced enough to gain immediate credibility). No-one believed his BS. His infamous announcement to the team in Liverpool “frameworks are dead” fell flat on its face as the CCS published more frameworks than ever (and greater progress has been made on alternatives to frameworks since he left). Importantly, Bill just ran a ‘land-grab’ across Government Departments and that was always going to be fundamentally flawed. And no-one could make the numbers add up. “We’ve saved £800m by negotiating with our suppliers” but there was far too much devil in the detail.

    Much made sense (don’t get me wrong) and still makes sense. It was all badly executed.

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