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20 March 2011 | Lindsay Clark
Public procurement needs to rethink some of
its basic assumptions to adapt to the agenda of service commissioning, a
leading think tank has said.
As the government is set to publish its white
paper on public service reform, Matthew Horne, managing partner at not-for-profit
research group the Innovation Unit said that procurement - both professionals and the purchasing
process - needs to adapt to the new policy.
Previewing research to be released with the
white paper, Horne said there was a growing procurement orthodoxy to seek
economies of scale to increase efficiency which will not always produce the
best outcome for the community.
He defined commissioning as “a very clear process that links
the needs of the community to the resources, the priorities and the decision
making that feeds through into the procurement process”.
While there was a lot of discussion about private or third
sector provision of public services, this did not always connect with community
needs, he said. “There is a lot more talk about commissioning
than actually doing it.”
Horne said there was a bias towards in-house
providers of public services as well as a lack of flexibility about changing
suppliers which leads to a bias in favour of the incumbent provider whether
they’re in the public or private sector.
“It is hard for new providers to break into
that relationship between commissioners and providers,” Horne said at the Public Sector Efficiency Expo earlier this week.
Broadly, he argued, there were not enough
commissioning skills in the public sector. “What we see is a lack of confidence
in commissioning from either people with a procurement background or people
with a front-line service background,” he added.