Procurement Capability Review for the Department of Seasonal Affairs

It’s ten years since I was first involved with the Office of Government Commerce’s Procurement Capability Reviews, in which small teams of civil servants and external experts assessed every UK central government department for procurement performance and competence. I led the development of the methodology for the reviews, and participated as a team member for four large departments.

Now, another Review has come to light – one that didn’t get published at the time! So here, as an exclusive, are the Overview and Key Headlines for the Department for Seasonal Affairs – DfSA to its friends. This was carried out of course by OMC - the Office of Magical Competence.

DfSA Overview – 7 Key Facts to give Context to the Review Findings

  1. DfSA is responsible for strategy, policy and delivery of a wide range of seasonal services, with a very strong focus on Christmas.
  2. The total running cost of the Department is zero; the Review team was unable to fully understand this and the response we were given of “it’s magic” struck us as somewhat disingenuous.
  3. The Department is very centralised, with virtually all operations based in a cave at the North Pole. However, the ‘reach’ is truly global.
  4. The procurement environment is incredibly complex, with a supply base running into the millions, a customer base in the billions, and supply side monopoly, availability and safety issues.
  5. There are a number of minor agencies and NDMBs (Non-Departmental Mythical Bodies), dealing with related seasonal issues (primarily the Tooth Fairy Board, the Easter Egg Certification Council and the Halloween Agency). Our report does however focus very strongly on the central Department.
  6. Procurement is vital to DfSA. As one member of the procurement team squeaked, “without us there would be no Christmas”.
  7. The PS (Permanent Santa) takes a very close personal interest in supply chain issues. The Commercial Director’s remit covers sourcing; she works closely with the Manufacturing and Delivery Directors (the Chief Elf and Rudolph).


DfSA – Headlines from the Review

  • The Review thanks the Department for their cooperation, particularly given the intense pressure they were under.  In retrospect, choosing late December was not perhaps the best scheduling for the Review.
  • The DfSA has a commercial workforce composed mainly of semi-skilled elves, who despite minimal training, development or indeed remuneration, appear motivated and effective, singing happily as they go about their work (some inter-Department staff moves could clearly benefit other Departments).  Membership of CIPS (Chartered Institute of Purchasing for Santa) is widespread.
  • The Department employs mystical sourcing processes which the team did not feel they truly understood. (A little like Trade Extensions but with more chanting of spells). However, the results are undeniably impressive as the DfSA does not appear to pay anything for the products it sources.
  • The supply chain is complex, including in-house manufacture (carried out under the direction of the Chief Elf) and external supply (managed by the Chief Purchasing Fairy). Staff appear generally competent, if occasionally four-legged, aggressive and / or invisible.
  • However, there are major succession planning issues. It is really not good enough to assume that the Permanent Santa will live forever!
  • The requisitioning process is over-dependent on fireplaces, and little consideration has been given to automation, shared services or even email.
  • The delivery methodology appears to be effective (to our surprise given the severe logistical challenges.)  But there are opportunities to pilot alternative methods e.g. sub-contract to Amazon?
  • There has been limited collaboration with OGDs, perhaps inevitable given the track record of visitors falling to reach the DfSA promises with all fingers and toes still in place.

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