Who procures the consultants who do the procurement?

With all the talk about procurement outsourcing, and the perils of relying too much / not enough on consultants (see various West Coast Rail comments and issues), I thought a letter in the Financial Times the other day was rather pertinent.

It expresses the problem I’ve always had with the idea of entirely outsourcing procurement  (which is not to say that carefully considered outsourcing of elements of procurement can’t be a good move, as we explained in this Paper)  But if you outsource the whole lot, who manages procurement and management of the outsourced procurement service provider itself?

Or as the letter from Mr Simon Hill in the FT said:

Sir, With not a little self-interest Andrew Hooke (Letters, October 8) advertises the benefits of government using consultants like himself to undertake best value procurement. But how could the civil service be trusted with procuring competent procurement consultants? Or would that process also require consultants?

Russian dolls come to mind…. the consultant managing the consultant who procures the service of the consultant who… you get the idea!

Mr. Hooke’s letter also got a response from Denise Le Gal, a Surrey County Council Councillor, who in a letter to the FT which I suspect somewhat embarrassed Andrew Forzani and his team, reported here, said this:

 Sir, Andrew Hooke may like to know that specialist outsourcing professionals were not called in to help Surrey county council save £56m on contracts that also provide better service.

That’s the amount our procurement team has saved in the past two financial years by driving harder bargains.

Among the successes were a new road maintenance and improvement contract with May Gurney that saves £4.1m annually when compared with the previous deal and sees potholes fixed faster while a street light replacement scheme will save £12m over the 25-year lifespan of the agreement and provide huge environmental benefits.

Of course, there will always be times when external negotiating capability is required but I very much doubt that the private sector consultants Mr Hooke is so keen to champion would have got close to providing such value for money on those contracts.


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