What’s it really like in public sector procurement?

When we wrote our recent series on the Government’s procurement performance in their first year, I got a bit of pushback from a few friends. It’s hard to know from the outside, but the general message from those nearer the coal face is that morale in large parts of the public sector, including procurement, is not good.   Here are some of the stories I’ve heard...

In MOD, there is huge uncertainty about what is happening in DE&S, and the changes in the commercial structure. Apparently one Q&A document which was used to communicate the latest round of organisational changes went like this:

Q.  “Why are commercial staff being transferred to DE&S on May 3 when they were only transferred to DGDC on 1 April?”

A. “This is the product of the dynamic environment in which we are operating”..

Which of course interprets as,  “we can’t really give you a rational reason, it’s just happening”.  That’s such a great bit of management-speak, I must use that in the future. “Peter, why haven’t you finished that White Paper yet – “sorry, but it’s a product of the dynamic environment in which we are operating”.

I heard another story of a supplier contacting a small local authority to find that the procurement team of 3 had all taken voluntary redundancy, and left almost immediately. The ‘department’ was now “a young chap with a piece of A4 paper and a list of contracts”, desperately phoning suppliers to find out what he was supposed to be doing.  That has the ring of truth; I've heard stories of people in Whitehall getting letters saying they've got their voluntary redundancy and literally walking out that same day. The loss of expertise won't be obvious for some time, and I don't believe the people going have been 'selected' - we're not necessarily losing those who contribute least unfortunately!

Finally, I noticed this on the Guardian website.

“Dr David Horne, director of resources at the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), has told MPs that IT contracts put in place by his organisation are set to save £18m on IT consumables alone”.

(I believe Procurement at NPIA reports into Horne, who I worked with some years ago and found to be one of the “good guys”; intelligent and personable.)

But this was the bit that caught my eye. “In response to a question from Liberal Democrat member Dr Julian Huppert about whether the NPIA will be abolished, Horne said he was waiting clarification from the home secretary”.

It’s almost a year since this: "The National Policing Improvement Agency is set to be abolished among widespread police reforms".

But now we’re still “waiting clarification”. That can’t be good – or fair – for the people working there.  It’s a result of the haste in which the Coalition wanted to announce abolition of quangos, without understanding what they actually did. And we’re paying the price now in terms of both continuing cost; and uncertainty for everyone working in these organisations. The worst of both worlds.

Anyway, how does it feel for you if you're in the public sector? Comments very welcome - and it's easy to be anonymous.  I recommend gmail.  Personally I leave the odd comment, and I mean odd, on the Daily Mail website in the guise of my favourite 1960s footballer. (Bonus point if you can guess who...)

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