'Suppliers: don't take advantage of lower commercial skills of public sector'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
10 March 2014

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10 March 2014 | Will Green

The head of the National Audit Office (NAO) has told suppliers not to take advantage of the “lower commercial skills” of the public sector.

Amyas Morse, auditor general at the NAO, sounded the warning at the launch of the CBI’s new Public Services Network.

He said: “If you are dealing with the public sector you know they have lower commercial skills than you. You shouldn’t take advantage of that.”

Responding to CBI proposals that the NAO should audit government outsourcing contracts, he said: “People will get frank feedback if the NAO are involved. If you don’t mind that I’m delighted to be part of it.”

The launch was also attended by Labour MP Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, who agreed commercial skills in the public sector needed improving.

“Of course the public sector needs the skills and expertise of the private sector but operating in the public domain is somewhat different because it’s financed through the taxpayer pound, which means accountability is hugely important,” she said. “The way you engage will inevitably be different.

“Transparency is essential. We need to see where the taxpayers’ pound is going.”

Hodge said the government used get-out clauses in the Freedom of Information Act to avoid transparency.

“All too often it’s the government that hides behind commercial confidentiality because they don’t want the service to be analysed too closely,” she said.

Hodge also said she did not want to see private sector monopolies in the public sector.

“We don’t want to end up with a lot of private monopolies running public services,” she said. “I don’t want to see too many too big to fail.”

Susan Johnson, chief executive officer at County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, suggested the private sector should help improve commercial skills in the public sector.

“There is not very good contract management in the public sector, so why doesn’t the private sector say to my organisation, we will give you six days a year free with our director of contract management and he will take you through the key principles of good contract management?” she said.

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