NAO report on Police procurement – hello, hello, what’s all this non-collaborative behaviour, then?

The National Audit Office report on Police procurement is a very interesting, highly readable and illuminating report.  It’s concise but insightful, and seems to lay out the key issues in a dispassionate but pretty transparent manner  – well done again to NAO.  It has it’s depressing moments, but if you look hard enough, there are some positives too!

To declare an interest; I set up the National Police Procurement Centre of Excellence in 2005. I spent 6 months doing that, but within 2 years it was dead, as the Police Forces wouldn’t fund it after that initial period. I then did an interim stint as the first Commercial Director for the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), handing over a few months to Sue Moffatt. The current Government announced early in their term that NPIA was to e killed off, as part of the “bonfire of the quangos”.

But they hadn’t worked out how to re-allocate the important stuff that the organisation did. It has then taken two years to decide who was going to do the work NPIA was responsible for, including driving procurement improvement across the Police sector. That hasn’t been a very happy  process, and (for instance) the “Police IT” company has still not got off the ground and looks like a dead duck before it’s even hatched.

Back to this report - here’s some context from NAO.

 “The 43 police forces in England and Wales procure a wide variety of goods and services to support their work. These range from uniform and police cars to estate and facilities management services, such as cleaning. In 2010-11 police forces spent £1.7 billion on all goods and services (excluding ICT, which amounted to a further £633 million), representing around 13 per cent of total force expenditure”.

Page 30 and 31 of the report also contains a brilliant chart that shows the complexity of the police procurement landscape – congratulations to which ever poor NAO graduate trainee got that job! It’s fascinating, and is also a demonstration of why the “Crown Procurement Service” – the idea of a single body to do all public procurement – will never work. Remember, this complexity lies within just the police sector, who spend less than 2% of the total public sector spend on goods and service!

As we said, NPIA was actually doing some good stuff in procurement areas such as Fleet and some equipment, going back to the PITO days (yet another collaborative body, pre NPIA). But the fundamental problem remains – Police forces are independent, so gaining collaboration, or even just getting them to listen to central procurement advice, can be difficult if the Chief Constable, Police Authority Chair or (now) Police Commissioner doesn’t want to play ball.

So it is perhaps not surprising that the NAO report is pretty mixed in terms of the situation.  On the positive side, to have 280 procurement professionals  in the Service, with over 60% being CIPS qualified, is a big step forward compared to where Police procurement was 20 or even 10 years ago. And there is “bottom-up” collaboration emerging, with Forces getting together in areas, and strong use of collaborative deals both police specific and wider (e.g. GPS).

But there are fundamental issues around collaboration, data and skills – more on that in part 2.

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Voices (3)

  1. Stephen Heard:

    I remember during my time at OGC Buying Solutions trying to get the Police to collaborate and it was only possible if all of the other police forces followed the Met Police! The Manchester force were of the same opinion that everyone should follow them and therein was the problem!

  2. Dave Orr:

    I think they should simply give all their spend to Southwest One (75% owned by IBM) as they have done such a great job at Avon & Somerset Police (don’t mention Somerset County Council though).

    Or if the National Police IT Company gets off the ground, then former Chief Constable Colin Port could head it up. Ideally, start with legal spend and get a discount at Carter Ruck (Mr Port was a regular customer when taxpayers picked up the tab).

    He also has combined experience in handling two posts together: Chief Constable and Southwest One Director.

  3. Dan:

    Its a very circular situation – the forces don’t use the frameworks set up by the collaborative body because they don’t offer value for money, the and the frameworks can’t offer value for money because no-one wants to collaborate. We have the same problem in the Social Housing sector (where the benefits would be even larger because its even more fragmented. Can’t wait to see if the NAO do a report on that!)

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