A year in power – UK public sector procurement under the Coalition, part 3

So we’ve now had the successes and the ‘not provens’ in terms of the Government’s track record on procurement issues over the first year of power. Today… let’s take a look at the failures (in our opinion of course). The first will come as no surprise to regular readers…


Of course it is not just the procurement or commercial aspects of the wider Health policy that have caused problems, but actually looking at some major areas of contention (GP Commissioning, competition between public and private providers, the financial situation of struggling hospitals), it is clear that commercial issues and market strategies are at the heart of many of the key issues. We’ve had doubts about GP Commissioning for longer than the Prime Minister; we’re also disappointed by the very limited resource going into the QIPP procurement efforts (which are aimed at helping hospitals improve procurement). We don’t see clear leadership in procurement anywhere in the sector, so although there is some really good local work going on (see our recent posts on the work in Durham for example), overall it is disappointing.

Capability and best practice

We mourned the loss of OGC, and while much of their work has been continued – and improved in some cases – something has been lost.  Look at how much useful material used to appear regularly on their website; there’s been no real substitute for that. There’s no evidence of better practice coming into focus generally; we’ve seen some pretty poor examples of public procurement recently. We also seem to have lost some focus on capability development for the profession in the public sector; we’re also disappointed that there’s been no very little new intake into the senior ranks of public procurement, despite stated intent (e.g. the Crown Commercial Representatives).

‘Strategic commercial vision’

This one is quite hard to tie down. While the Coalition have been impressive on what we might in the profession call more ‘tactical’ procurement activities (demand management, leveraged negotiation, routine category spend), there has been less sense from the centre of what procurement, and the market, can add strategically to public service deliver. There are exceptions in Departments, we would stress, with notable achievements such as the DWP Work Programme procurement being a great example. But more generally, what will the role of outsourcing and the private sector be in delivering services? Is PFI or something like it a good or a bad idea? Why are charities so much more acceptable than private firms in partnering with Government? We haven’t as yet seen any clear vision here, and the recent CBI meeting on outsourcing, followed by the Capita CEO telling us that he had been promised loads of work by Ministers, reinforces the feeling that we don’t quite know what the Coalition feels about these issues.


So, overall, a mixed picture, as you might expect, with some successes and quite a few areas where improvements could be made. And with the continuing focus on deficit reduction inevitable over the next few years, the importance of procurement is only likely to increase. It will be fascinating to see what happens in the next 12 months in areas such a Health and Defence, as well as in terms of the centralisation agenda. We’ll be covering these and other areas regularly here of course.

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Voices (2)

  1. Christine Morton:

    Any comments to make on the education sector? Wouldn’t want the thousands of schools to be ignored.

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