07 June 2006 | Rebecca Ellinor
Sir Digby Jones, head of the CBI, has called for public-sector procurement professionals to be better rewarded for their work.
In one of his final speeches before stepping down as director-general, Sir Digby told those gathered at the 2006 National Public Procurement Practitioners' Day in London yesterday: "Procurement is a professional activity which needs to be carried out by experienced, respected and properly remunerated staff.
"Those of you from the public sector are - and I hope you'll appreciate how difficult it is for me to say this - some of the few public servants I meet who I believe should be better rewarded.
"There need to be the right incentives to improve performance. Greater rewards will encourage greater professionalism and the innovation that leads to long-term efficiency. It's not all about the dosh, it's about being shown the right respect, about being appreciated as a key player in the delivery of public services, about using your skills to improve the quality of people's lives. That said, the money is quite nice too…"
Sir Digby added that the "cost of poor procurement is high" and one difficulty was a shortage of trained staff.
"Procurement techniques should be driving innovation, but what we are seeing is poor skills holding back progress," he said.
"Two years ago the National Audit Office found the ratio in government between those with the authority to carry out procurements and those actually qualified to do so is four to one. The CBI wants to see the Professional Skills for Government programme and the departmental capability reviews used to address this. But our concern is this is not happening; it is unacceptable, we want to know why and I think we have the right to ask why."
Sir Digby also raised the importance of the public sector working with its partners in the private sector to improve innovation and deliver quality services. He said suppliers and procurement must be allowed some degree of flexibility to take risks in order to achieve this.
"Smart procurement can necessitate an element of risk-taking, and this is where effective political leadership has a key part to play," he said. "The Public Accounts Committee needs to look at real value and encourage civil servants to take risks in the pursuit of innovation and enhanced quality, and not attack them for doing so."