14 November 2005 | Anusha Bradley
Departments disregarding deals negotiated by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) should be "challenged", the Treasury has said.
At the OGC conference, Delivering Effective and Efficient Public Services, held in London last week, Des Browne, chief secretary to the Treasury, said he expected the OGC "to challenge organisations to justify why they are not taking up the best deals".
The OGC is carrying out a series of price benchmarking surveys for commodities commonly bought across government. A review on the purchase of computer monitors revealed that the top eight central government departments paid between £159 and £269 for the same product.
Browne said: "Bad practice is not an option for the public sector. If there were more sharing of the best deals I believe considerable additional efficiencies could be realised."
John Oughton, OGC chief executive, told SM savings would be realised through "collaboration not control" and the use of OGC deals would not be mandatory.
In future, Browne said, cabinet ministers responsible for the biggest-spending departments would be subjected to "stock takes" with Treasury "to focus on performance and progress" in achieving their part of the £21.5 billion Gershon Review efficiency savings target.
A "network of efficiency champions", consisting of junior ministers from those departments, would be established to promote the drive.
"We are six months into the programme and this is where it kicks in," he added.
Browne acknowledged efficiency gains would be harder to achieve further down the track but said the introduction of stock takes, modelled on monthly meetings with ministers of key public services conducted by the prime minister, would review progress once or twice a year.
The government had made a "reasonable start" on the savings target, having achieved £2 billion by April this year, Browne said. At least half of that figure was as a result of procurement savings, according to government efficiency programme director David Rossington.