Open to the public

6 September 2011
One complaint I hear frequently as SM editor is the “negative coverage” we give public sector procurement. As I explain to my interlocutors, there are several reasons for this perception, but none of them are bias or prejudice on our part. Chiefly, public sector buying is open to criticism – it has to be. It faces greater external scrutiny and those findings are widely reported. Were private sector buying faced with this level of public investigation it would receive the same coverage in these pages, and indeed elsewhere. But it doesn’t happen that way. Senior buyers in privately owned or stock market listed companies have to deal with very little, or indeed no, public probing. A massive overspend or huge delay there may see the CPO replaced pretty sharpish, but there would be no group of MPs comparing budgets to spend. This type of problem is dealt with behind closed doors. Also, there have been plenty of high-profile blunders to cover. National Audit Office or parliamentary committee reports are highlighting the problems of some Whitehall sourcing for all to see. But could all of this be about to end? There have been changes in public sector procurement over the past two years and, while many of the overspend/major delays revelations continue, they generally refer to older projects – those pre-dating the new regime. Of course, the avoidance of disaster and success are not the same thing. And examples of innovative public sector procurement are growing. For instance, I have been judging the CIPS/SM Awards for six years and have seen improvements in the quality, scope and achievements of many public sector projects. Sure, the criticism from MPs and auditors will continue as long as it needs to. But if these positive developments carry on they will balance the negative coverage. An uplifting note not only for the reputation of public sector buyers, but good news for taxpayers and SM readers alike.
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