16 November 2009 | Jake Kanter
UK government departments must build and retain procurement talent to counter "significant weaknesses" in buying skills, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
The spending watchdog's report, Commercial skills for complex government projects
, said the public sector lacked commercial capability in areas including contract management, commissioning and risk management.
It said skills shortfalls had put value for money at risk on 43 major central government projects totalling about £200 billion. Even greater risks existed on programmes not subject to a high level of scrutiny, it added.
The NAO said central government bodies had attempted to fill skills gaps with interim staff and consultants. Thirteen departments spend 35 per cent of their staff budget on temporary employees.
A high reliance on advisers can lead to larger project costs and departmental staff failing to take commercial decisions, the watchdog said.
It said departments should work on building and retaining commercial skills and must decide the calibre and pay of commercial staff needed for a project.
It added the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and departments should establish best practice approaches with training and access to internal experts.
Last month the OGC suggested greater commercial expertise existed in government purchasing after the first wave of procurement capability reviews (Web news, 1 October
). But the NAO said these efforts have had a "limited impact". In addition, 14 of 16 departmental commercial directors said the OGC had "done little to address skills gaps".
The OGC's response was that departments are responsible for their own commercial skills.