A year in power – UK public sector procurement under the Coalition, part 2

So yesterday we had the procurement successes of this Government. Today we’ll feature some ‘not proven’ areas; initiatives or challenges where success cannot be judged yet. In some cases, the direction looks good, but results haven’t come through so far; in others, it’s just not clear yet exactly what is going to happen.

Centralisation of Whitehall spending in common categories

Regular readers will know we’ve written a lot about this over the last year. We’re not surprised it has not moved as fast as hoped; it was always going to be more difficult than the casual observer would expect, herding the cats from 18 central Departments into a single procurement flock* for common categories. The intent is good; some progress has been made; but the first tender issued under the programme (office supplies) was a little disappointing in some aspects.  We may not know until about this time next year for sure whether this has worked.


Recent excitement about consulting contracts apart, MOD procurement has been remarkably quiet since the appointment of Bernard Gray as Chief of Defence Materiel. There has been talk of big cuts in staff and various ideas about re-organisations, but some of his big ideas, as outlined in his report of 2009, seem to have hit the ‘reality treacle’. There’s certainly a much needed willingness to face up to difficult issues evident in some cases, such as the re-costing of aircraft carriers; but where MOD acquisition is going strategically is still unclear.

Local Government

The jury is still out, but the Government is clearly not making ‘improving local government procurement’ a high priority.  Francis Maude has made it clear that his procurement initiatives are very much Whitehall focused, while Eric Pickles pursues his interesting strategy of talking about devolving power from the centre, then issuing regular micro-managing exhortations covering issues such as how much councils should spend on leaflets. On the positive side, there is evidence that some regions and areas are building on the good collaborative work we’ve seen over the last few years. On the negative, funding for some useful bodies such as the RIEPS has been cut, and we’re still seeing particular examples of non-joined up thinking and, at times, frankly incompetent procurement coming out of local government.

SMEs, innovation and other policy issues

What you might call the ‘policy through procurement’ agenda has had a fair amount of attention, particularly in terms of supporting SMEs, and innovation. There has been good talk around SMEs but it is not clear yet whether things are actually improving – and we’re still very uncertain that the drive to use more ‘open’ procedure tenders is actually positive at all for SMEs. There has been some interesting work on encouraging new ideas and innovation from the market, such as the ‘innovation launch-pad’, but again it’s too early to say whether the outcomes will be useful. In other policy areas, such as sustainable procurement, it’s all gone a bit quiet.

There's some meaty issues there; so still much to play for in terms of the final judgement on the overall success or failure of public procurement during this Parliament.


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Voices (5)

  1. Neil Hind:

    Re: your comment on RIEPs. Some good news is that a number of regions will continue with regional procurment work using either unspent fundings or council contributions.

    In the NW a very light regional project will continue but the majority of councils are contributing in some fashion to their sub-regional hubs in AGMA, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria.

    More plans to follow I expect……

  2. Paul Smith:

    Peter – Interested in your comments on the impact on Local Government procurement.

    I agree that ‘Government is clearly not making improving local government procurement a high priority’ and believe that it is really the role of local government itself to sort out procurement.

    There is evidence of good collaboration going on and as a member of Pro5,
    YPO are keen for this to continue!

    How do you justify your statement of ‘examples of….frankly incompetent procurement coming out of local government’? It is a bit easy sometimes to make these sort of statements but there is a lot of great work done by great professionals.

    Paul Smith – Procurement and Supply Chain Director, YPO

    1. Peter Smith:

      You’re right, it was a bit of a glib statement, but I’d just had a couple of people (on the supply side) this week showing me tenders that really aren’t very clever! I don’t want to constantly post negative stuff so I don’t generally fetaure them in too much detail, but as an example, suppliers who were told by an authority, “you can bid a low price to get on this framework, you can always increase it when we do call-offs”!
      Also seen some very SME unfriendly stuff around.
      I do agree there is a lot of great work done, and I try and highlight that, and always willing to wirte about positive case studies – like the Durham health one the other week. And I’ll be commenting positively on a Pro5 initiative next week actually. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think everyone is as competent as the best..

      1. Neil Hind:

        Peter – have a look at some good examples of LG procurement from the NW. £ms of savings from childrens service alone – one of those areas people tend to neglect! Also a ground breaking construction partnership that has already seen over £200m of spend.


      2. Paul Smith:

        And you are right too!
        There is loads of improvement needed to make sure that the majority of public sector procurement is excellent.

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