30 October 2009 | Jake Kanter
UK public sector buyers have hit back at criticism that government procurement is overly lengthy and wasteful.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) made the comments in its pre-budget submission last month, arguing delays and administrative burdens inflate costs.
It added that urgent action was needed to address cost overruns as a result of poorly managed procurement processes for complex programmes and manufactured products. This alone, it said, could save the government £13 billion by 2015-16.
Recommendations included improving procurement in the Ministry of Defence and for the Building Schools for the Future programme.
But buyers said there were good reasons why purchasing processes were lengthy. David Thomas, commercial director at HM Revenue & Customs, told SM
: "The courts and public procurement rules are becoming increasingly litigious and complex. Is it any surprise public bodies are lengthening procurement processes by putting in due rigour? If you get it wrong you go back to base one."
Legislation has become a "series of procedural trip wires", added Andy Davies, director of the London Universities Purchasing Consortium.
He said: "The amount of litigation in public procurement is increasing exponentially and it's making authorities increasingly nervous when it comes to making decisions. It is no wonder we tread carefully and slowly, particularly on major procurements."
And Martin Blake, head of corporate procurement at London Probation, said the CBI focused only on high-profile, complex projects, when there was a lot of other good work in public procurement.
The CBI's report, Doing more with less: A credible strategy for restoring the public finances
, said by 2015-16 the public sector could save £30 billion by sharing back-office functions and outsourcing them to private sector suppliers. As part of this, £24 billion could be saved through collaborative procurement, it said.
Meanwhile, Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said government could save at least £9 billion. In an open letter to the chancellor Alistair Darling last month he said the public sector must take advantage of its buying power, improve financial management and reduce complexity.