What represents good progress?

9 July 2009
"Rome wasn't built in a day," football manager Brian Clough once said. "But I wasn't on that particular job." The question of what represents good progress occurred to me when I was reading through this issue's interview with Nigel Smith. Since we last interviewed the head of the OGC the procurement capability reviews have identified a number of issues, most notably lack of spend data, which Smith told us he planned to tackle when he took up his role in September 2007. Nearly two years on, Smith says the OGC is able to map £110 billion of the £175 billion of government spend. "You might say to me 'that is only 110 out of 175' - and I would say 'when we started this process it was a lot less than £70 billion'". This is obviously an improvement, but does it represent good progress? Even given the unique challenges of the public sector, spend analysis should be a relatively simple process - and one that is the cornerstone of good procurement. £65,000,000,000 (I have spelt it out to show the sheer scale) is a huge amount of money still left in the "unknown" column. Smith says he would be happy to achieve 80 per cent of spend mapped, using pareto analysis, leaving the remaining 20 per cent to be dealt with later on. But I don't think it is sensible to leave £35 billion spent without oversight, particularly given the state of the public finances. Not only does this impact on the efficiency targets, but also hinders all the other goals public sector buyers are meant to achieve. Do the OGC's efforts represent good progress, or should more have been achieved in the last two years?
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