Goodbye, Office of Government Commerce; but is it Zombie, Ghost or Corpse?

With my journalistic hat on, coffee or beer in hand, (OK, often beer) I've been talking to a few contacts in what used to be the UK Office of Government Commerce - and some interested parties in central Whitehall Departments - over the last couple of weeks to get a sense of what is going on in public sector procurement, particularly the Whitehall element of it.  Oh, and if you don't think this really matters, just remember; the UK public sector spends about £220 billion of its citizens' and taxpayers' money every year with suppliers.  And the deficit hit £1,000,000,000,000 last week (excluding bank commitments).

So I'll be publishing five posts in the next few days; this one, another looking back at the history of OGC, and three more forward looking pieces including a look at current key initiatives such as the centralising commodity procurement programme, and the future of Buying Solutions.

So.. start with the philosophical question.  If an OGC falls in the wood, and nobody hears, does it make a sound?  Does it exist?  What is 'it' anyway?  We need a philospopher to answer such questions....Anyway, I likened OGC to a dead parrot a while ago, but I've been toying with a few alternative definitions...

Zombie; sort of still alive, looks a bit like it did before, but not really of the living..

Ghost: gone from this world, but still around in a vapour-like form;

Dead parrot; just very dead.

So what is the current state of the organisation formally known as OGC? I now tend towards the ghost, as I think I now understand some of the  reasons it hasn't been formally abolished. There are branding issues in terms of aspects of OGC's work where OGC is a respected name (e.g. the commercial exploitation of PRINCE 2 and ITIL) and 'the Cabinet Office' would not work as well.  So I understand that there may be some sense in which 'OGC' will continue into the future - but very much in a wraith-like form, and probably with very few if any staff actually working for 'OGC'. (And I should say that I believe the outlook for OGC staff is very variable, depending on which area of the old organisation they worked for).

For there is no doubt that OGC as a distinct organisation, with a permanent secretary level leader, has gone.  Most has been subsumed into Cabinet Office, and some into BIS (Department of Business).  Thinking back to all the fanfare (which I remember well) when it was formed, following the first Gershon Review, it seems strange that its disappearance has been greeted with virtually no comment at all; from the procurement community or press, or more general press, from the Opposition, from business groups....

But isn't this significant?  How does Peter Gershon, from whose metaphorical loins OGC sprang way back in 1999, feel about being one of the Cabinet Office non-execs who have presided over the last rites?

Perhaps I 'm over-dramatising - but it seems to me a big event in the public sector procurement narrative, and one that needs a bit more debate. I don't expect people whose careers depend on government to say too much, but a bit of debate somewhere would be good. Personally, as a professional and a taxpayer, I would like to hear Ministers clearly articulate why life is going to be better without OGC.

Please don't think that I necessarily believe it is all totally negative.  There's some really groundbreaking work going on, driven from Cabinet Office, and we'll be featuring that as well in our posts.  And I've heard enough to know that in Francis Maude, we have a powerful Minister who is more involved in procurement, and shows better understanding of the issues than any politician we've probably ever seen in Whitehall.  Even die-hard lefties I've spoken to are admiring of his efforts in this space.

But it feels like there should be some debate.  What are the risks in losing the focal point of public procurement?  For instance, Maude's focus is very much central Government, so what does that mean for the wider public sector (recognising many will be delighted to see the back of OGC)! What happens if an major fraud / sex / animal cruelty / all of the above scandal hits an unfortunate Cabinet Minister and Maude is moved?

So we'll come back to these issues in the next few days and I really hope to get some comments from readers - are you delighted OGC has gone?  Or is it a retrograde step for procurement?  Remember you can be anonymous with your comments - we will never disclose your details.  Use a gmail alias if you don't even want me to know who you are.

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Voices (4)

  1. David Jordan:

    The big issue is perhaps not what happens to the OGC as a brand and organisation, but what will become of the resources that are currently available through OGC? Having used the collaborative contracts database recently I couldn’t help but wonder what the saving in transaction costs are annually from public sector buyers identifying existing routes to market through this tool instead of starting again from scratch. Equally how many of us regularly use the policy & standards framework to check on some aspect of the regs and guidance?

  2. Guy:

    Its NOT dead, its just pining for the Fjords

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