US concern over UK military outsource – and chair procurement lands teacher in trouble

A couple of UK public sector procurement stories caught my eye over the last few days. The Times reported that:

Bernard Gray, chief of defence materiel at the Ministry of Defence, told staff he will issue a contract notice for a private partner to run Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S), the body in charge of buying military equipment. An “invitation to negotiate” will be issued to bidders in the summer.

But the US Department of Defense is expressing some doubts about the plan for a GoCo (government owned, contractor operated) organisation to take over the work of DE&S. There's a lot of military co-operation between the two countries, including in the acquisition and logistics arena. So the Americans are worried about control moving to a private sector firm or firms who, as of the pointed out, may or may not be defence contractors in their own right.

Melinda Morgan, a spokeswoman for Frank Kendall, the department’s top acquisition official, recently told Defense News magazine: “We do have some concerns over an option that would put contractors in roles normally filled by government employees — and the effects this would have on ongoing and future co-operation.”

The MOD is also pursuing what they're calling “DE&S plus” as an option that would see the organisation remaining in the public sector. It's hard to know what the true situation is here. Is DE&S plus just a sop to the unions and the dissenters? Or is it the other way round – is the GoCo really a dead duck, which it could be given the conservative natures of Philip Hammond (the Minister) and John Thompson (the Permanent Secretary)? In that case the whole plus initiative could be a graceful way out, without simply killing the GoCo now and making Bernard Gray, the architect of that scheme, look foolish. Or it could be a genuinely open decision? We’ll see...


then the BBC featured a report from the UK Department of Education criticised a head teacher from a north London academy school for various financial irregularities. Jo Shuter of Quintin Kynaston Community Academy, used school money to pay for taxis and her own birthday party, and on one occasion she bought chairs for her own home then brought different chairs (which she said were worth more) into the school.

“An overnight meeting held in January 2012 at the Grove Hotel, in Chandlers Cross, cost £8,269.” (That’s a very swanky 5 star hotel with a Championship golf course).

She’s an inspirational teacher apparently, but that doesn’t and shouldn’t excuse lack of probity with public money. It highlights a couple of issues though. There are thousands of public bodies that aren’t really big enough to justify having a procurement professional on their staff yet spend a lot of money in total (this school’s annual budget is around £10 million). So what can we do to spread procurement and finance good practice to this community?

And secondly, the way power is being devolved to schools, hospitals, even police forces within the UK public sector means that we may be more likely to see instances like this as central controls are unwound. So different checks and balances may be needed to protect what is still public money, even if it is channelled through very independent academies or hospital trusts.

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Voices (2)

  1. Trevor Black:

    I could write a book on the level of commercial incompetence that exists in schools. It is not their fault but headteachers were trained to teach and not run multi-million pound businesses. I’m waiting for the next major disaster where a child is killed as a consequence of a school employing a cowboy contractor and then we will get the usual lessons learnt speech. Despite the obvious that they are there to teach children there is a reluctance to join with other schools and reap the benefits of economies of scale. I once tried to explain to a headteacher the benefits of economies of scale was but eventually gave up. So don’t even bother attempting to explain commercial confidentiality, conflicts of interest, transparency, probity etc, etc.

  2. Paul Wright:

    Peter, a friend and I noted the lack of commercial experience in the schools we are involved in. We set up first4schools to try and help (not to get rich).

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