Government procurement has buy-in and burning platform, says Collington

6 October 2011

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6 October 2011 | Rebecca Ellinor

Government procurement has seen significant change over the past 18 months, said CPO John Collington, one of the keynote speakers at the CIPS Conference.

To make that change he said two things were required – a burning platform and executive-level buy in, both of which UK government procurement has. Describing the strength of the support he had from Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude he said when difficulties arrived it was a case of “my big brother’s bigger than your big brother”.

“We’ve raised the profile of the profession within government, we’ve asked for additional responsibility and we’ve got it – and now we’ll be held to account.”

He said, for example, the prime minister would be reviewing a paper this afternoon on how procurement will contribute to UK growth strategy.

In terms of aggregated buying, Collington said particular progress had been made in five of the nine common spend categories – fleet, energy, travel, office supplies and print. And added that the remaining four were being tackled but were more challenging, which are marketing and communications, professional services, facilities and estates and finally, ICT – a strategy for which he is finalising next week.

He said: “The problem with FM and estates in government is a lot of those contracts are tied up in 20-year PFI contracts. Extracting yourself from a PFI contract is not so easy but there is now an appetite in government to do that where it represents value.”

Collington said the savings already released from addressing the £13 billion of central government spend on common goods and services were being reinvested into training that would help government buyers do a better job with the £40 billion of strategic and operational spend done by separate departments.

He added that there is as much good practice in the public sector as in the private, but the former is more reserved about its successes and while there is as much bad practice in private as public, there is far more scrutiny in the latter. He said capability, confidence and courage are the three characteristics required of Government Procurement operatives.

Collington said work had already been done to rationalise the number of steps to standard procurement procedures from 43 to five and described getting data on government spend like “climbing Everest in plimsolls,” but said this was being addressed.

Collington was named as the UK's first cross-government chief procurement officer in April. His role combines previous responsibilities as head of procurement at the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group with the post of chief executive of Buying Solutions - the government's commercial agency - to form a single position.

As reported by SM in August, the UK government awarded two central purchasing deals that are expected to save it £18 million a year on office supplies.

For more details see the live blog from the conference on 6 October.

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