One in five businesses think public procurement skills are getting worse

Gurjit Degun
19 February 2014

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19 February 2014 | Gurjit Degun

More than 60 per cent of businesses have not seen an improvement in commercial skills in public procurement in the past year, and one in five believes capability has deteriorated.

That’s the results of a survey of CBI members, in which respondents also said improving the public sector’s commercial skills is essential to transforming the procurement process.

CBI added inconsistency across government departments and a short-term approach to commercial contracts are also key concerns amongst businesses.

Of the 100 respondents to the annual study, 67 per cent said the government’s performance in standardising procurement processes is poor; and a similar number said lowest cost was still driving most contracting decisions.

They also said that the Crown Commercial Service’s Mystery Shopper facility is helping market performance but smaller firms remain unaware of it. More than one third (35 per cent) of firms said they are still facing longer pre-qualification questionnaires.

CBI called for a “permanent change” to the way the public sector manages its relationships with suppliers. It explained there should be a move to a more “collaborative procurement strategy that will unlock savings and improvements”. It added: “Failing to standardise procurement processes across the public sector leads to higher costs for businesses, making it more difficult for smaller firms to compete.”

The business organisation also said ministers should be held accountable for the implementation of the reform programme and senior responsible officers must be more visible at key stages of major contracts.

Jim Bligh, CBI’s head of public services, said that progress in public procurement reform has been “painfully slow”.

“The Crown Commercial Service must complete its radical overhaul of the process and tackle inconsistency and poor standards,” he said. “To make this happen ministers must get behind the reform process to deliver competitive, accountable and transparent markets right across government.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “As part of our long-term economic plan this government is reforming the way Whitehall does procurement, stripping out bureaucracy and making it easier for firms of all sizes to win contracts. Last year this work saved hard-working taxpayers £3.8 billion and more small to medium enterprises than before are doing business with government. We are pleased the CBI recognise our progress but agree that more needs to be done."

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