More on the Cabinet Office Structural Reform Plan

Back to the Cabinet office Structural Reform Plan and some questions that occur having read it a few times.

  1. How widely is 'centralised' commodity procurement going to be driven? Is it purely central Government Departments, or does it include the Agencies and NDPBs of those Departments, or does it go even more widely into local authorities, police forces and so on? (I hear rumours that this is a source of some debate right up to Cabinet level.)
  2. What does it mean when it says "identifying the threshold for projects to be procured centrally"?  Is a central body (such as the Efficiency and Reform Group) really going to manage procurement of large projects (IT? Property? Aircraft Carriers?)  Is it feasible to take this responsibility away from the  budget holding Departments?
  3. The whole centralisation agenda for IT is as strong as that for procurement; setting standards, stopping projects and so on.  John Suffolk is going to play a key role in the success or otherwise of the Cabinet Office.
  4. Indeed, this is a huge power shift from Departments (and Treasury in particular) to Cabinet Office. From revising civil service Ts and Cs, through abolishing quangos to IT and procurement, Francis Maude will have his fingers in many important pies, and is going to be a very powerful man.
  5. But it strikes me that there is an unresolved tension between on the one hand the manifesto commitment to localise (including free schools for instance), the desire to award more contracts to SMEs, to break up large IT contracts: and on the other hand, the centralisation and control agenda that comes through this Plan loud and clear.
  6. The whole agenda is very challenging and the timescales very tight.  Just as an example (and this  is something I fully support), the commitment to "publish all new central government tenders above£10,000 on a single website free of charge" by September is challenging to say the least, particularly given the time of year!

Away from the Plan, I expected to see more about the move of OGC to Cabinet Office emerging quickly – but it hasn't.  That makes me think it was perhaps not planned carefully in advance, which must make the position of OGC somewhat more worrying. Still no news on whether Nigel Smith will head up the whole Efficiency sand Reform Group for example.

As I've said before, interesting times...

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Voices (3)

  1. Des McConaghy:

    Procurement policy must work with the grain of existing industry networking patterns and this calls for specialised professional inputs and feedbacks within each industrial sector. Our 1995 White Paper (“Strategy for Government Procurement”, Cm 2840) set out some good principles for government using its commercial influence “to strengthen the supply market”. And to be effective that meant a very focused effort by both public agencies and industry “at each stage in the formulation and development of policies, services, corporate plans and public expenditure plans” (para 2.10). But this was never done and we still have no coherent or intelligible Treasury supply procedure either centrally or therefore at subservient levels of government. In 1997 the initial proposals from Peter Gershon at Marconi were really just an argument for setting up yet another public sector agency – the OGC. And in spite of the vast wider societal developments with the Internet there was no comparable opening up of the public procurement or even any objective attempt to use the then Treasury “public service agreements” to improve the supply base. Instead public procurement was more often just seen as the “sweet option” for new agencies seeking an ever larger monopolistic share of the more essential life-chance goods and services where there is a relatively permanent basic demand. Then, too, successive Chancellors have always resisted opening up the supply procedure for party political reasons (the abiding scandal at the very centre of British polity) so this is where any Cabinet Office reform plan worth its salt should begin!

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