Public buying the ‘antithesis’ of innovation, say Lords

6 June 2011

6 June 2011 | Adam Leach

Public procurement is stifling innovation and must be changed, according to a report by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

The report argued the way government spends £236 billion a year on procurement, it is missing an enormous opportunity to influence the development of innovative products and services by settling for “proven solutions” from “existing suppliers”.

Calling the current culture of government “antithetical” to innovation, the Committee made a number of proposals to bring about a culture change including the creation of a new ministerial role to specifically oversee both purchasing and innovation.

While the committee noted that the formation and role of the Efficiency and Reform Group is a step forward it said that overall responsibility for government purchasing remains “fragmented”.

“We recommend that a Minister should be responsible for both procurement and innovation, charged with ensuring that, where appropriate, innovative solutions are used to meet procurement problems across government,” the report said.

“The Minister should be held accountable for how well procurement decisions are made including to what extent innovative solutions had been considered and the reasons why they had not been adopted.

“There is also a bold suggestion of a new network of ministers solely responsible for purchasing with a representative in each department.”

The Highways Agency was singled out for its innovative approach to contracting which has improved the efficiency and cost of road maintenance.

The report was inspired by comments made by former science and innovation minister Lord Sainsbury who said: “So should the Home Office have a budget which supports the development of innovation in the security industry? I think absolutely yes.

“They are the customer, they have the problem, and they should be driving a programme of innovation in that area,” he added.

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