UK public procurement – commissioning and Maude’s view of procurement – readers comment

We've had so many comments on our article Francis Maude that we've had to build a new server farm here in Surrey just to accommodate them all!

Well, not quite but it is a record number of comments for us so thanks so much to everyone. We'll feature a few of the key arguments today and come back to some of the points with further views later this week. But treat this as a taster and do take a look at the full range of comments here.

So, three key themes were explored in the comments:

What is the difference between commissioning and procurement?

Rob Gillingwater said: “It is an unfortunate fact that in the public sector commissioning is seen as separate from procurement and contract management, when in fact they are linked... Comparison with the commercial sector is clear, Procurement is from concept to contract management to ensure a “commercially practical” supply contract is secured.

PlanBee brought a private sector perspective: “Why does the public sector need to make things up? Its redefining the role I have done for 30 years out of existence. In all those years in the private sector I never came across the word commissioning. Ever, unless it was related to get a new bit of plant working. And if I had Procurement staff who didn’t know the ‘market of potential suppliers, I would consider them incompetent and they would know about it in their appraisal (and long before).

Dan was the first with a theme that was picked up by others! “My personal view is that ‘Commissioning’ is merely procurement for people who think they are above being a procurer”.

And Ian Heptinstall saw the mark of the consulting firms, introducing a “new” idea... “the big brand consultants need to give it a new name to claim they are selling something new. After all how can you charge £3K/day to suggest - “just do good procurement. Identify & prioritise opportunities, find and select the best suppliers, manage their performance & continuously improve””.

Is Government Procurement Service over-reaching itself?

This strand has been somewhat overtaken by the David Shields exit, but there were some relevant comments on this point.

Tom Graham said: “GPS are involved in a major land grab exercise at breakneck speed and it is doomed to failure. Not because “mandarins” get in the way, it’s because GPS don’t have the skillsets required to support specialist procurements”.

Ian Taylor asked an interesting – perhaps slightly tongue in cheek question: “So is it time now to reinvent the OGC? Things do go around. That’s the Office of Government Commissioning of course. Shame CIPS missed the commissioning boat – and keep missing it”.

Final Furlong commented on the category approach in GPS – “Anyway, the current strategy isn’t “what’s the most optimum category strategy?” it’s “let’s centralise more to control more” – a case of the tail wagging the dog. (Organise then strategise…)”

Why does Maude think this way and is it bad news for the profession?

This relates to his identification of procurement as the “bit in the middle”...

Bill Atthehill said: “His advisers (whomever they may be…but you know who you are…) should be ashamed of themselves upon reflecting that this is the outcome of two years’ intensive, dedicated effort in influencing and shaping the views and opinions of Minister Maude”.

Feetontheground was personally disappointed by Maude’s comments; “having come from the private sector I have spent 8 years in a small central government agency. In this time I have moved procurement (for want of a better word!) from being a transactional, order placing function to one where we are engaged from the outset, working up a sourcing strategy with the business function, advising on how to specify and evaluate requirements, order placement and a comprehensive contract management process. The latter has involved designing a supplier management training programme for non specialist staff ... We also delivered a very successful outsourcing programme with just my in house team. Clearly though if I want to get on in Government, I had better sharpen my quill pen and get back to order placement...”

I’ll stop there for now - there’s more if you go to the full comments here, including an interesting debate around leverage, and more on commissioning and procurement. Thanks again to everyone who contributed, and I will feature personal views on “commissioning” very soon.

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