What is going on with OGC and Cabinet Office?

We reported the end of OGC (Office of Government Commerce) email addresses here, and speculated as to how significant that might be.  I've spoken to a couple of people in OGC over the last week or so and it is clearly a strange time for that organisation.

"OGC is all but killed off....some people are busy,  some of the collaborative procurement folk for instance.  But others are sitting around doing nothing because they don't know if their projects or even whole areas are going to continue or not".

OGC staff have also been told in some cases to stop using the OGC name on memos, and with the end of the OGC email addresses adding to the uncertainty,  "stakeholders are very confused, particularly in the wider public sector".

So in the spirit of investigative journalism, I called the Cabinet Office (CO) press office and spoke to a very pleasant chap.  "Does OGC still exist?" I asked.

"Absolutely" he replied.  "They came into Cabinet Office but they're still OGC".

"That's good to know", I replied.  "Because some of their staff seem a bit uncertain.  The email changes, told not to use the name, not sure who they report to, and so on".

At this he seemed a bit less certain.  "Shall I get someone who is closer to it to speak to you?".  Yes please.  5 days later I got an email response.

"To be clear, OGC expertise is continuing to support the ongoing and important work of the Efficiency and Reform Group...In due course, he (Ian Watmore) will take any necessary decisions concerning the organisational structure and governance of the Efficiency & Reform Group, including the future work to be carried out in relation to areas such as procurement."

"To be clear..."?   Well.... sounds like some carefully chosen unclear wording to me, but suggests that while OGC expertise is still valued (which is good given there are hundreds of OGC people there), CO cetainly cannot actually say that yes, OGC still exists.

Why does this matter?  Am I being a bit of a public procurement anorak about this?  Well, I know not everyone in public sector procurement is an OGC fan, but over the last 8 years or so it has been the most influential single organisation by some distance in terms of overall activity and improvement across public procurement.  From Buying Solutions and collaboration, to their work on procurement policy (EU negotiations, 'policy through procurement' and sustainability), Gateways and MPRGs, Estates management, the Government Procurement Service and capability development....they have had an impact on pretty much everyone in public procurement.

So apart from what seems like a waste of some good people's time and energy (sitting around waiting to hear what the future holds), some sense of direction as quickly as possible would seem to be important at a time when we need to take over £100 Billion out of public expenditure.  That would suggest the need for increased, not decreased, focus on managing third party spend as well as possible - and across the whole public sector, and all spend, not just for a few central government categories (which appears to be the main priority at the moment).

I appreciate Ian Watmore is still in his very early days as COO of the Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG), but he must have had his ideas about OGC before he officially took up the role; he was appointed some time ago and he knows central government very well.   And of course the ERG has Sir Peter Gershon as a non-exec; a man who understands OGC as well as pretty much anyone.  But of course they and ERG have many other priorities, so for what it is worth, I just want to promote the idea that procurement should be very high on their agenda.  Some clarity as quickly as possible in terms of structures, roles and responsibilities would seem to be desirable here for everyone's sake.

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Voices (2)

  1. Christine Morton:

    And this just in from SM – where Nigel Smith talks about how OGC is now part of the Cabinet Office…


  2. ajw53:

    Perhaps, all will become clear on 20/10 when the spending review is announced and published.

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