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23 February 2012 | Adam Leach
The UK government claims a contract awarded
to provide training to civil servants is the first in central government to demand competition in the
The £250 million contract awarded to Capita
Workplace Services by the Cabinet Office and Civil Service Learning (CSL)
mandates 51 per cent of subcontracts must be put through a competitive tender
process. Capita, which is in charge of managing the programme, will be able to
provide no more than 49 per cent of the training itself, and will go out to the
market to provide the remainder.
The approach, which the government claims
is the first of its kind, is designed to “influence the number of smaller
players that get access to government business”.
“Never before has the government taken the
step of mandating competition in the supply chain. This new contract exposes
the myth that there is an inherent contradiction between centralising
procurement and supporting small businesses,” said Francis Maude, minister for
the Cabinet Office.
The government will audit the competitions
to ensure they are fair.
Colin Cram, a founding member of Cabinet
Office Central Unit on Purchasing, a forerunner to the Efficiency and Reform
Group, said while the precise details are not yet clear, the idea sounds like
an effective way of stimulating competition while passing on the administrative
burden. “In effect it’s a way of getting competition and driving down costs.
CSL probably doesn’t have the capability to do the contracting itself, so
effectively it has outsourced procurement,” he said.
In order to ensure the full benefits of the
contract are realised, Cram said CSL will need put in some “decent contract
managers and keep them in place for the life of the contract”.
CSL was established in 2011 to reform
training provision across the civil service and deliver efficiency savings. A 2011
review of training found more than 200 contracts with different providers, and
different rates across the same department with the same supplier.