10 June 2004
The Office of Government Commerce has rejected criticism that its announcement of £1.6 billion in savings are inaccurate and that it took credit for savings that were not its doing.
A purchasing professional with first-hand experience of the government told SM that the largest single saving was due to the switch to electronic benefits payments at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), even though the decision was made in May 1999, before the OGC was set up.
He also claimed that the National Audit Office (NAO), which approved the savings, may have been "less than robust" in its examination of the figures, as its head, the comptroller and auditor general Sir John Bourn, sits on the OGC's supervisory board.
But an OGC spokesman rubbished the claims, saying it was "confident that these figures stand up" and the DWP savings were legitimately calculated.
The spokesman said changes in pensions payments stemmed from the review of civil procurement in central government by Sir Peter Gershon, the OGC's former chief executive, in 1999.
"As such, it is legitimate for the DWP efficiency gain to be included in the £1.6 billion figure," the spokesman said.
He added that even in departments where good procurement teams existed already, the OGC added value with its guidance and acted as a "catalyst" for success.
"Departments used to work in a silo mentality," he said. "The OGC has brought them together and aggregated demand to realise these savings."
A spokesman for the NAO said that "great care" was always taken to maintain its independence, pointing out that its dual role included value-for-money assessment as well as straightforward oversight.