Steria, policy through procurement and Public Service Broadcasting – our readers comment

So instead of our Procurement Pub Friday feature, this week we're picking up on some of the recent comments we've had - thanks as always to everyone who contributes!

The item that brought the most comments was around the news that Steria had been chosen as preferred bidder for the UK Cabinet Office "shared service centre 2". It got comments around a few different issues actually - one was my somewhat throwaway comment that the success of the NHS Shared Services Centre, a joint venture between the Department of Health and Steria may have been a positive factor.

Howard started it by challenging me "I’m curious to know what new evidence you have to be impressed with the NHS shared services operation".

But I got some support from Sam Unkin - "Whilst I am no fan of NHS-SBS, it certainly stands head and shoulders above most of these other projects – in that it hasn’t been a complete disaster".

I guess that is pretty much how I feel - I was impressed when I visited SBS some time ago, but I don't claim to know enough to be sure in terms of their performance. But it does strike me as, at worst, "not bad", which makes it better to be frank than the vast majority of shared services in the public sector.

But that post also highlighted the possibility that jobs might be offshored, which drew this from Dave Orr. (And I do have some sympathy with this view. Is it really sensible for government to send its own jobs off to foreign locations?)

 Why bother with SMEs, universal credit, minimum and living wages, keeping English & Maths going after 16 (if no GCSE), if you simply shovel Government jobs offshore?

 Much of the IT in the “Universal Discredit” project was offshored by Accenture and IBM, yet costs to the UK taxpayer remained very high (£500/day charged) and quality suffers due to inevitable cultural and communication problems. Most of the benefits of offshoring appear to accrue to the contractor in even larger profits.

Dan picked up on the whole "policy through procurement" issue, and gave us a comment that was virtually a blog in its own right. It's worth repeating in full.

 "The problem with ‘policy through procurement’ is not that it’s a bad idea, but that no-one is responsible for it. The end result is that a number of government departments all think that procurement can help them with their policy objectives, and there has been no attempt at rationalisation or prioritisation.

 A brief list of these policies are:

1. Sustainability (this in itself is a nightmare – use of sustainable timber, renewable energies, Code for Sustainable homes etc)

2. Increased use of SMEs

3. Employment and training of unemployed people

4. Increased use of local firms (overlaps with point 2 above, but they’re not totally identical)

5. Promotion of equality and diversity

6. Lean procurement practices (e.g. increased use of the EU Open Procuedure)

7. Non-use of tax-avoiding companies

8. Implementation of the Bribery Act

 And now, of course, the media are exerting pressure to not use companies like G4S and Serco who are currently under investigation. Not guilty of anything, just being investigated, even though at least some of the blame should rest with the contract managers paying the invoices.  And this, lets not forget, is in the middle of a massive reductions in government revenues necessitating the requirement to find savings – so we’re also indirectly protecting the jobs of front-line workers.

 Scotland and Wales have it a lot easier – the public sector in those countries are a lot smaller, especially in terms of the number of organisations that are around, and procurement is a lot more centralised. They have also, to their credit, seen the importance of procurement given the above and have invested a lot in it. No-one in England seems to have taken responsibility for it, and there doesn’t seem to be a single over-arching strategy for the public sector. It just seems to be lots of different people making it up as they go along.

 It's really no wonder David Shields quit".

 Finally, on a totally different note, Alphabet Bands shared their view of the Mercury Music Prize shortlist. I'm going to come back to that, but let me  say now I am in full agreement with this. And Mr Bands is spot on - Public Service Broadcasting is a really bad omission.

 "It feels like the Mercury judges really did play safe this year. Each album, bar Jon Hopkins I believe, made the UK Top 20 and many of the artists have been nominated before.

The absence of London Grammar (album review here: was a shock but equally disappointing, in my opinion, was the omission of Public Service Broadcasting and their fine debut, Inform – Educate – Entertain".

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Voices (2)

  1. John O'Neill:

    I worked for David at Government Procurement Service until taking early retirement . He did not suffer fools gladly no matter who they were. His passion for professional procurement in Government was self evident. The public sector needs people who will challenge entrenched thinking and he was ideal for the task. He will thrive elsewhere and hopefully those who were foolish to let him go will in time see the error of their ways.

  2. On the Sidelines:

    Peter, I echo what Dan says about David Shields. David was many things, but never a “yes sir” type. He is his own man. And what direction is GPS going in now? Exactly. Round in circles.

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