As the PASC enquiry continues in to Public Procurement, we are disappointed to have heard the recent evidence from the Rt Honourable Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General that portrays Government procurement as a narrowly focussed and technical activity sandwiched between developing an understanding of supply markets and contract management
There still remains an ingrained mis-understanding about true value of procurement in the public sector sphere. The focus on ‘tactical’ procurement initially is disappointing. Yes, centralising this ‘tactical’ element in theory is a sensible move – but we stress the need for caution – making assumptions around standardisation and economies of scale are not easy to address.
Collective responsibility’ – it sounds workable, again the theory should stack up but as we have devolved leadership and accountability, making a collective approach a very hard road to go down. Especially when you extend it to local government – without strengthening the central government mandate, this approach would not achieve its full potential. Maude said himself that some ‘mandarins’ are “stoutly resisting his demands for change” and here in lies the problem when you have no or limited jurisdiction, not adding teeth to your demands by mandating and are not addressing change management. Even the Civil Service Reform Plan neglects to address change management.
The Crown Representative model has provided a level of focus and commercial capability to drive a more joined up approach to managing large, complex and dispersed relationships with major suppliers. It is therefore important when focusing on the recruitment of more senior managers from outside the profession that they understand the true skills of the profession and are not just making the ‘deals’. So far it is unclear how the large pool of talented procurement professionals within Government are being developed to take on these important roles and to build internal knowledge and a sustainable capability. We need to see a broader and more comprehensive understanding of procurement’s value coming from Central Government and its intrinsic role in the commission cycle if we are to ever make real headway in enabling this profession to demonstrate its true potential in the public sector. Procurement professionals are doing more than just paper buying or even managing significant IT contracts – welfare, medical equipment, defence procurement, waste management, education sector – the list is endless and the breadth is so much wider - this isn’t about negotiating with a handful of suppliers and simplifying price structures. This is about value, shaping markets, creating new enterprises, stimulating growth and finding sustainable ways to reduce the budget deficit.
David Noble, CIPS CEO