Public buying takes centre stage

15 March 2010
Peter SmithI am delighted to be writing my first post for Buyography. I do have my own blog, although I have probably had more nice comments about my occasional music-related post than the regular procurement stuff. After 25 years in the profession I can find a huge number of procurement issues about which to comment, advise or moan. But I have found recently that, probably because of the forthcoming election, the UK public sector has been a very fruitful source of blog topics. For instance, we have recently had the Tories announcing that they will publish in full all government contracts over £25,000 in value (read what I had to say about it here). It's one of those policies that sounds quite attractive as a taxpayer, but I'm not quite sure about as a procurement person. How will those genuinely confidential elements of a contract be protected? What about those goods or services - and yes, there really are some - where a particular part of the public sector gets a really great deal that the supplier would not offer if it became public knowledge? And what actually happens if another supplier looks at a contract and says: “Hey, I could have done it for half the price?” I can see a stream of such claims, which the press is going to love. Then we had the idea that public sector workers could set up cooperatives to run job centres, hospital departments and the like. Another “so, how's that going to work then?” moment. For that to stand any chance of success we need dynamic, competitive markets in the areas where these co-ops are going to operate. (More work for procurement creating and managing these markets?) Without that, it is hard to see what happens if the staff who have taken over the local Jobcentre Plus as a co-op pay themselves huge bonuses then go bust; or cut cost by reducing service levels. We've also had the idea of banning advertising firms from government contracts if they “sexualise children” in their work (I'm not sure that's legal under EU regs); promises to reform government IT procurement; and a whole host of issues around both Ministry of Defence and NHS procurement. Much for me to return to in future posts. I don't remember procurement being quite so central to previous elections. Perhaps it is because on the mega-issues, such as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little real difference between the parties? Or is it the pressing need to reduce public sector spending that has increased the focus? Anyway, it is good news for bloggers, and possibly good news for the profession; although there is an inherent danger lurking. Much will be expected of public procurement post-election, whoever wins. I hope as a profession we're up to it. * If you're interested in becoming a regular guest blogger for Buyography, the SM blog, contact us at editorial@supplymanagement.com
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