Prospects for new UK Government Chief Procurement Officer (part 1)

Forgetting for the moment about the Cabinet Office handling of the Deputy UK Deputy Chief Procurement Officer role (see here if you missed the story), let’s look at where we are now in terms of government procurement leadership.

We’ll start with an interesting article recently on the Public Service website – a site consistently worth reading, if you don’t already, by the way. It commented on the departure of John Collington from the government Chief Procurement Office  role and claimed that:

“some of Whitehall's most senior procurement directors are still not buying into radical procurement reforms designed to save the taxpayer billions of pounds”.

The hint is that John Collington’s resignation may have been partly to do with this lack of buy-in. We believe there is some truth in that, although we suspect that he was finding the Shared Services agenda whihc he had taken on at least as frustrating as the procurement issues, such as the work on centralisation of spend categories.

At a time when many permanent secretaries have very challenging agendas within their own area of accountability, Cabinet Office telling them to unpick and outsource their support services just isn’t seen as a priority. (And remember that Francis Maude is not a member of the Cabinet).  So I suspect that a few Permanent Secretaries  have been telling Cabinet Office officials, very politely, as they always do, to “get off my land”.

And that takes us to an important point, where I would slightly differ in analysis to Public Service. It’s not necessarily the Procurement Directors “not buying in”. It may be their bosses, the CFOs, Perm Secs and so on who are the issue. It is also not uniformly true – when I spoke a while ago to David Shields, who runs the Government Procurement Service delivery arm, he commented for instance on how well GPS was working with MOD. Historically, the relationship between them and Buying Solutions was less close.

However, there are some who see that GPS could move on from being the “delivery engine” for the current limited number of collaborative categories, to being in effect THE central procurement function for Whitehall. I think that has sounded some alarm bells amongst CPOs and others – and I don’t believe for a moment that it would be workable. (I’m not suggesting that David Shields thinks that, by the way).

There is also some cynicism and disappointment around in the government procurement community over Collington’s departure, which won’t make Bill Crothers’ job any easier.

“The first time we’ve had a government CPO and he jumps ship after just 18 months for the first half-way decent private sector job that comes along – it doesn’t do much for the credibility of the role and the programme” was one comment I heard.

So all of this, along with the Deputy issue, and some perception that Crothers isn’t a “real” lifetime procurement professional (as you can see from our comments on previous posts here), is creating a somewhat volatile atmosphere around Whitehall procurement. More developments to come, no doubt, but in our next post on the topic, we’ll be bold enough to offer a few thoughts on how the new CPO might want to proceed in this challenging environment.

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Voices (5)

  1. anonymouse:

    Is service as a Partner at Accenture a mandatory requirement for Chief
    Procurement Officers.

  2. Flying Finn:

    It does seem that Mr Crothers has an interesting role on his hands! I did hear that the GPS flagship tender – ConsultancyOne – has again delayed announcing the outcome of the PQQs. Given bidders were required to submit responses by early February I believe, it does seem a bit of a stretch to suggest that GPS need until 3 September to complete the evaluation. Is this our new CPO’s first intervention? If so, not sure we needed more delays to Public Sector tendering…….

  3. Craig:

    Francis Maude is definitely a member of the Cabinet.

    A bit of fact checking might be in order before publishing

    1. Peter Smith:

      How dare you sir? My team of unpaid intern fact-checkers, all with double-firsts from our top Universities, were beside themselves when they saw your comment.
      However, they have confirmed to me that, in fact, you are wrong. The key sentence at the top of the page you link to is this: “Meetings are currently attended by 22 paid ministers and one unpaid minister appointed to Cabinet, and six other invited ministers and peers”.
      Cabinet is limited by law to 24 people. So if the PM wants more people to attend the Cabinet meetings, that is fine. But they are not officially “members of the Cabinet”. They are “invited to attend Cabinet meetings”. Maude is in that position. He is also the Minister in charge of the Cabinet Office (a Government Department) which adds to the confusion. Here’s a link that lays it out more clearly.
      You might not think these fine distinctions matter. Believe me, in Whitehall land, they do. When there is mutual dislike (or worse) between Ministers, their rank usually determines who wins the battles. Just like in our own organisations…

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