Putting the savings in place

8 November 2011
“Oh no, here we go again” will be the response of many public sector buyers to the findings of the Future Purchasing /Henley Business School report.  An understandable response. Not for the first time, an outside body is critical of the effectiveness of procurement in local authorities, central government and beyond. As our cover feature (p26) sets out, the research estimates £37 billion could be saved before the next election and £70 billion over two parliaments. Sums that would make a huge difference to the UK’s deficit and, according to the authors, prevent cuts elsewhere. They claim it could even save us all some tax, although that particular extrapolation seems a little fanciful in the current climate. But are the findings accurate? Well, like all these estimates we will only know if the proposed changes are carried out in full. Whether that happens depends on the introduction of high level political will to save and the commitment that procurement savings are an end in themselves (rather than by-products of other policies). These are two recommendations of the report and each seems both highly sensible and achievable. Indeed, the Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG) is already taking steps in these directions. And the ability of the report authors to convince ERG head John Collington will be pivotal to the report’s full or at least partial implementation. The two parties are in discussion over the findings and we look forward to that outcome. And without delving too far into the party politics of procurement, if the coalition rejects the proposals, these projected savings will present a great opportunity for opposition parties when the UK next goes to the polls. You could write the headlines yourself. This report has already received high-profile coverage and this looks likely to continue. While 
public sector readers may heave a sigh, successful implementation could be the beginning of the end 
for these bad news stories.
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