Public procurement questions for a certain someone

28 June 2010
I’ve been at a couple of very enjoyable social events at the weekend, courtesy of a very old friend and an important event for his family. The sort of thing where, who knows, I might just have bumped into the odd MP or even minister. Imagine I had had the appropriate person pinned in the corner, glass of wine in hand – what would my top 10 questions be around the current “exciting times” in public procurement? Here’s an initial stab at a list. 1. How will the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) fit into the Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG) and Cabinet Office and what does it mean for roles and responsibilities, particularly at senior level? 2. How will the areas of the OGC (for instance, EU and UK policy, and the Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement) that are not purely focused on rapid cost reduction – or the stuff in the structural reform plan – fit into Cabinet Office when their agenda does not appear closely related to that of the ERG? 3. What does the ERG statement in the structural reform plan about centralising project procurement mean? 4. Eric Pickles talked about the need for local authorities to collaborate. But at the same time, there is much talk of localisation, breaking up larger contracts into smaller. How will that dichotomy be resolved (if it ever is)? 5. If the ERG is to focus on centralising commodity procurement just for central government, who is going to drive wider public sector collaboration and procurement improvement generally – particularly given the expectation at least some of the regional bodies that have played a role in this will disappear given the necessary cuts? What is the future of the regional improvement & efficiency partnerships? 6. Will the focus on centralising commodity procurement for central government free up skilled procurement resources for departments to focus on more strategic matters, or will it prove a huge distraction and suck in the brightest and best in public procurement who should be focusing on bigger prizes (the commodities under discussion are probably 10 per cent of central government third-party spend)? Messrs Shields, Smith, Mosco, Taylor, Collington et al spending months on the new stationery contract doesn’t sound too smart. 7. Will any such central contracts have to be let through new contract vehicles or new competitions, in which case do ministers understand how long this will take? 8. Is the recent silence on the “negotiating cost savings from major suppliers” indicative of the almost inevitable difficulties with that strategy? 9. Will procurement escape some of the more drastic cuts in headcount to come given that procurement is core to driving out the savings from the £220 billion of non-staff spend? With Nigel Smith going, who is around to make the case at the highest levels? 10. Are you going to measure procurement savings and if so, using which methodology? And, if (s)he hasn’t run a mile by now, a cheeky one to finish: 11. How much of the overall procurement approach was planned pre-election and how much is being made up on the hoof?
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