08 April 2009 | Paul Snell
Central government departments need to drastically improve their 'knowledge and performance management', according to the latest procurement reviews published by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC).
Each of the six departments reviewed between May and December last year received an amber/red rating in this category, signifying "an area in need of urgent development".
The departments examined in the final two rounds of reviews were the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR), the Cabinet Office (CO), the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), HM Treasury (HMT) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The reports, published this month, highlighted several problems in the area of knowledge and performance management, one of the nine key areas assessed in the review process.
The issues included a difficulty in compiling a department-wide system of procurement management information at the FCO, no routine identification of common suppliers among the DCMS' non-departmental public bodies and a contracts database at the CO that is "not fit for purpose", as it contains less than 20 per cent of all contracts and is not updated regularly.
In addition, five of the departments also earned an amber/red rating in the 'visibility and impact of leadership' category. Commercial leadership at the BERR was described as "uncoordinated", as nobody has been identified to lead on commercial issues for the department and its related bodies. And even though procurement is represented at board level at the Treasury, visibility of the 18-month-old procurement department remained "variable".
The reviews pointed to continuing problems with purchasing strategies being implemented and the scarcity of capable staff.
HMT, CO, BERR and the FCO were all warned about their lack of overall commercial strategy. The MoD's report highlighted "the acknowledged shortage of sufficiently capable commercial staff at all levels", despite a "few exceptional individuals". The same problem exists at the FCO, which was pulled up for a lack of resource planning along with the MoD and BERR.
The results in departments' 'use of procurement tools' and the 'confidence of stakeholders and suppliers' were more positive. DCMS was recognised for widespread senior management support
and suppliers considered it to be professional and well-informed. The MoD's engagement with suppliers was well-developed and respected, but complex procurement processes could lead vendors to increase prices.
OGC chief executive Nigel Smith said it was imperative further improvements were made despite the "great work and professionalism" identified. The OGC intends to publish an overview of all the assessments later this year.
However, the CBI raised concerns over the move to allow departments to evaluate themselves in the future (News, 2 April). Deputy-director John Cridland said in a statement: "Departments need to be challenged to improve, but assessing their own procurement capabilities may confuse matters at a time when we need more transparency."