09 December 2005 | Rebecca Ellinor
The procurement process must not be skipped or rushed and more purchasing expertise is needed at the contract design stage.
These are some of the observations made by the Commons public accounts committee in a report reviewing studies it has produced in the past 10 years. Achieving value for money in the delivery of public services
, published on 6 December, highlights the "failure by departments to learn from each other's experience" by cataloguing mistakes noted in reports dating back to the 1990s.
Referring back to earlier studies on aspects of the health service, Ministry of Defence, Home Office and others, it found "basic errors are repeated time and again, despite fine words and earnest assurances to the committee". While some improvements have been made in the past decade, the report condemned policies that are not properly planned; found the government made slow progress in capitalising on opportunities offered by new technologies; and cited its failure to exploit commercial opportunities.
In addition, its report on Home Office grants for crime and disorder reduction partnerships found teams encouraged projects to be implemented too quickly that led to inefficient use of resources. "Rushed procurement can result in the loss of taxpayers' money," it concluded.
In the case of the Ministry of Defence's support vehicle projects, it said a decision to proceed without a formal assessment phase resulted in a 19-month delay that could have been avoided if it followed its own procurement procedures.
The committee concluded that, given the scale of government spending, just a 2 per cent improvement in the use of resources could generate savings of £8 billion a year.
Edward Leigh , Conservative chairman of the committee, said: "There is a continuing lack of leadership and drive. Government departments still disregard common and well-publicised pitfalls when they approach projects."
Among the remedies the report suggests are for contingency plans to be put in place and for proper planning to be done before work begins.
For public services to improve and operate more efficiently strong project management, reduced bureaucracy, increased productivity and timely implementation of policies are needed. Fraud must be tackled and government departments must become more commercially astute, noted the report.
With regards to being more "commercially astute", it recommended that departments should take greater advantage of their buying power to secure better deals; increase the use of professional procurement expertise in setting contract strategies; award contracts on a longer-term, sustainable, value-for-money basis rather than just the lowest price; and make better use of incentives and partnership working with suppliers.