UK government CPO reveals reform plans

4 October 2012

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4 October 2012 | Anna Reynolds

Bill Crothers, UK government chief procurement officer (CPO), is reforming procurement from the ‘inside out and outside in’.

Speaking at the CIPS Annual Conference 2012, he described the system in which the government buys as ‘closed’ and said: “Traditionally it hasn’t sought, welcomed or received external stimuli.

“There have been suppliers and consultants who have worked in the public sector their whole careers. People in the system think it’s superb, I think it’s awful.”

He said the government needs to look outside itself for inspiration from the US, Canada and Australia as well as at private companies such as Shell, Diageo and BP to ‘steal’ their commercial practices and ideas. He also welcomed suppliers and individuals who had no experience of the public sector to come forward.

He said the government should learn from the private sector where contracts that underperform are not tolerated: “We need to take the best of the private sector and put it here.”

He said he planned to “find the money, stimulate growth and improve capability”.

Crothers said this year’s saving target is £9 billion, £4 billion of which will come from commercial.

Speaking about performance, Crothers addressed two categories – common goods and services, and commercial relationships. He stressed the need for centralised procurement on items such as paper, and gave the example of a recent deal that should influence future negotiations. This supplier will provide cheaper, recycled paper, which will be recycled back into the system and if the government reaches a tonnage target the supplier will open up a mill in the UK creating jobs. Crothers described this as an example of “commercialising government” which sets a standard for other suppliers who then want to get on board: “It’s procurement and it’s political,” he said.

In terms of reform, Crothers said leaner procurement relies on contracts being “open book” with set terms to ensure “we are all talking the same language”. He expressed his commitment to drive simplicity, transparency, speed and competition in future procurement negotiations.

He then highlighted people and capability. “I want to see people in public procurement lifted to the level of the best. I want everyone to be CIPS-qualified and for people to focus on getting a deal. Think about the money not the process.” He added that training of civil servants is currently under way.

He ended on a plea for buyers and companies to come forward and share any successful practices that could be used in government. He said: “We all pay tax. This our money.”

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