Transformation like no other

25 October 2010
After the spending review we do not yet have the answer to the question that worries public sector buyers most – the number of job losses. And it is likely to be a month before we get a clearer picture. But what we do know is that the chancellor has cut (administration) budgets by a third. And there’ll be a lot more centralised buying. Further, with each buyer’s annual spend set to increase rapidly, it would be wildly optimistic to suppose buyers will be exempt from redundancies.But what of those who remain? The emphasis will be on greater efficiency and the opportunity to shine. I spoke to John Collington, procurement director at the government’s Efficiency and Reform Group, after the review. He described the £31 million average each private sector buyer is responsible for (according to Accenture) as the “optimum number” for the public sector. The current figure is, he says, £14 million – a long way short of the private sector, but a lot higher than the £5 million that Accenture has estimated. The time Collington has spent with Sir Philip Green during the latter’s report on public sector efficiency has made a difference. In his colourfully worded report Green described public procurement data as “shocking, inconsistent and hard to get at”. As we have reported in the past, this has been a perennial problem for Whitehall buyers. But Collington is confident he has a plan to end that, and will be able to measure savings. The transformation remains a work in progress and while the savings effort is under way the new overall structure for Whitehall buyers won’t be finalised until the end of this financial year. These developments should be positive for those who think they have seen one transformation too many. A mandate for centralisation and support from the very top makes this plan unlike any other. It is a huge blow for those who lose their jobs, but also a massive chance to change the effectiveness, image and accountability of public procurement.
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