Procurement's public sector profile problem

3 August 2009
The Conservatives have been speaking out on the woes of defence procurement again. In an interview with the Sunday Times yesterday, shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said: “The Ministry of Defence (MoD) consumes 16% of the civil service. There are 34,000 people in the Royal Navy, yet we have 28,000 civil servants in procurement. We need to look at the defence estates and how we organise procurement. The idea that we spend such a large percentage of our budget on procurement yet everything runs late and over-budget would not be tolerated in any business.” Although the figure for the number of civil servants working in procurement seems rather large (it could be that anybody doing some procurement-related activity has been included), it’s good to see that purchasing issues are being taken seriously. But with the profile rising among governments, I expect the problem in the future will be aligning the goals of procurement and policy. Even though purchasing is (or at least should be) broadly linked to policy objectives, these tend to be causes such as sustainability or improving healthcare, that all parties support and will try and move towards. But it will become increasingly difficult for buyers to deal with one government that says buy more ships, and buy fewer planes, only to be replaced by another government four years later which wants to buy more planes, and buy fewer ships. But this is just the sort of situation the profession will have to learn to tackle if it wants to maintain a high profile position.
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