Getting what you pay for

4 December 2009
This week, SM reported on the 2020 Public Services Trust study, Better Outcomes, published this week, I was intrigued. The report called for the UK government to pay suppliers on performance, when a service or product has been delivered. It argued such a shift in focus could “bring about a revolution” in the way contracts are delivered. But is this really such a revolutionary idea? I don’t profess to be an expert, but it seems obvious that this is how things should be done. Some of the steps recommended for buyers to implement a standard process for purchasing services include designing outcomes, establishing a delivery baseline and managing the process over the life of the deal. Shouldn’t procurement be doing these things anyway? How do you gauge the success or failure of a project, and therefore the relative merits of a supplier, without having some sort of yardstick against which to measure it? And US president Barack Obama has said the government must ensure the “right recipient is receiving the right payment for the right reason at the right time”. Again, are we stating the obvious a little? There are no doubt many complexities involved in following examples of where outcome-based commissioning in the public sector has proved successful and adopting it across the board, but could going back to the very basics be the way forward for the profession?
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