PASC report published – sensible thinking on public procurement

 You may remember we reported several times on the UK parliament Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) review of public procurement. That included my appearance before them, as well as the Minister, Francis Maude’s session.

The final report was published last Friday, so you can now see the words of wisdom from the committee and those who gave evidence.  Bernard Jenkin, who chaired the Committee, was impressive I thought – he started his career with Ford and 3i (the investment firm) which is maybe why he seemed to “get” a lot of the commercial issues pretty quickly.  This feeds through into a generally good report with sensible recommendations. We’ll come back to it in more detail, but art first sight it looks good – not surprisingly, it doesn’t go against current policy too much, but it does make some strong points.

I was particularly struck by the view on collaborative initiatives in Cabinet Office. The report isn’t against collaboration, but highlights the lack of a real strategy and direction from Cabinet Office, or a clear process for determining which categories should be procured at which level (local, regional, central...)

“The Government has failed to set out a clear strategy for public procurement. There remains a lack of clarity about the Government’s longer term policy for the consolidation of government and wider public sector procurement. The future role, responsibilities and accountability of the Cabinet Office and the Government Procurement Service and its relationship with government departments and the wider public sector also remain unclear”.

The PASC also recommend that Cabinet Office publish SME spend data more regularly and look for more accuracy – three cheers for that.

There is also a strong warning about the MOD “GoCo” – the report highlights a couple of the issues and paradoxes in that proposal. MOD seems to be saying increasingly that the main reason for a GoCo is to be able to pay specialist staff higher salaries - so we’re outsourcing jobs so we can pay more than we can within the civil service, which doesn’t seem a good reason – why not just pay what is needed?

 Then we presumably need more civil servants (who we also won’t be able to pay properly) to manage the people who are now outsourced to the private sector!  If MOD can’t make a stronger case than that as a justification, I don’t think it will happen and this report is another possible nail in the coffin.

“There  are risks with this model, not least the complexity of another relationship which the Ministry of Defence will have to be able to control. We are not convinced that this concept is sound or that cost-benefit analysis will prove its viability”.

Anyway, more comment to come from us, but you can download the full report here.  And of course, I wouldn’t dream of using the word search facility to see how often I’m quoted in the report, compared to other witnesses to the Committee... but I’m pleased to see that quite a few of the points I made are mentioned. Whatever comes of the recommendations, that makes it feels it was worthwhile getting involved!

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  1. Trevor Black:

    It’s taken long enough and it appears that we may be getting somewhere. I just wonder who will be appointed with the authority to get the task underway. Who will also have the temerity to challenge the commercially inept politically driven business cases? Given the culture the analogy of treading treacle does come to mind.

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