UK Government procurement initiatives; hot stuff or re-heated leftovers?

We featured some of Francis Maude’s comments yesterday here, but what became clear through the day is that we’re going to see some major announcements today (Monday) on UK Government procurement. The full release isn’t out yet (is available now - link here)  but here’s what we’ve picked up from the preliminary press coverage. We’ve included our comments after each point. And the answer to our question in the heading - some of this is re-heated but some could be genuinely new and helpful depending, as always, on the actual implementation. It does also confirm our view that Maude is more interested in procurement than any Minister we've ever seen before.

Point 1 -  Potential contracts with a value of more than £50bn will be published on Monday, based on forecasts of the government's requirements across a range of sectors, including IT and facilities management. By April, other departments will publish schedules for other major construction and infrastructure projects.  A good move – I seem to remember this has been discussed previously but never quite happened.

Point 2  -  Government will have an "open door" policy with suppliers to discuss future contracts.  Great in concept – impossible to implement we suspect in practice given resource constraints, so this runs the risk of setting false expectations.  Maybe we’ll call a few Departments and give it a try.  Also leaves buyers open to challenge from unsuccessful bidders who will claim unfair influence has been brought to bear by those suppliers who had “cosy meetings” pre-procurement.

 Point 3  - Departments will be encouraged to break up some major contracts to make it easier for small and medium sized enterprises to bid for the work.  Yes! Now this is what must happen if the Government is serious about really driving SME business. But we've heard this before, and we all know what “encouraged” means in Whitehall language.. suggested gently on page 6 of a very long letter. And “some” can mean “1” of course. The proof will be in the outcomes.

Point 4  -  All but the most complex procurement processes must be finished within four months from January next year, compared to an average of more than seven months now.  That’s fine as a target – but not sure how it will be measured, and  I can’t see how it “must” be finished. If a procurement has been delayed for instance, you’re not going to just stop it or decide on a winning bidder before you are actually finished. But it is a good objective. The definition of “the most complex processes” will have to be watched for slippage though to make sure it doesn’t come to mean “every contract I think will take more than 4 months”.

Point 5  -  Create a commissioning academy to dispel any myths that have built up around procurement and train public sector commissioners in how to be "confident and courageous" when awarding contracts.  Perhaps the most interesting idea of all. Is it significant that the word “commissioning” is used? Does that suggest that health and local authority procurement might be included in this?  In terms of the academy, the cynic may say “what, like the Civil Service College, that has just been closed”?

Or will the academy be run by CIPS, given the closeness of the relationship between Cabinet Office and CIPS?  Another cynic – a different one this time, call her cynic2 -  might point out that CIPS has trained the majority of procurement people in the public sector to date, and Mr Maude doesn't seem too impressed with them as they apparently have a “short-sighted and risk averse approach”. But we like this idea and will watch with great interest.

More tomorrow if there is anything interesting to add once we've seen the whole announcement.

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