Lessons in what not to buy

16 June 2010
On my way to London Docklands’ ExCel centre yesterday, I used the newly opened East London line. Aside from providing an economic boost to a forgotten and rather pretty bit of London, the new London Overground system afforded me transport to the Public Procurement Show conference and exhibition. After the credit crunch, bank bailout, recession and mountainous public debt, the show could well be entitled “What Not To Buy” as suppliers huddled nervously in their stands. The new coalition government’s commitment to £6.2 billion in cuts this financial year is just the beginning. Chancellor George Osborne now says the budget black hole is bigger than first thought, and the economic recovery will be slower. Next week’s emergency Budget will demonstrate the government’s mettle in cutting spending in the face of inevitable public outcry and union protest. David Halpern, research director of the Institute for Government, spoke at the Public Procurement Show yesterday. I chatted to him the week before last to write a story for SM. I didn’t have room in the piece for his comments on how Canada had tackled its budget deficit in the 1990s. Since then the government and the media has got hold of Canada’s approach as an example of how the UK should do it. Halpern told me the current efficiency savings in the UK are just fiddling around the edges. Only when Canada took bold decision on big capital projects did it start to conquer its deficit. So for me, it’s a good thing that the publicly funded East London line is now finished, although I am less sure about the orange and brown upholstery. Projects such as Crossrail and Building Schools for the Future may not be so lucky.
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