Wednesday, 3 April 2013

What are the national strategic objectives of procurement?

We all know that a strategy is forward looking and circumstances sometimes justify a change of direction. The general idea though is that you are consistent in your logic and what you are trying to achieve, your objectives.

Today’s raft of announcements from George Osborne suggests the Treasury haven’t yet read that chapter of the strategy book though.

Mr Osborne holds the view that those with vested interests always complain, with depressing predictable outrage, about every change in a system which is failing. According to the Chancellor “They want to take the cowardly way out, let debt rise and rise and just dump the costs on to our children”. That’s his view on those concerned about welfare reform. 

Yet, if we were to substitute ‘environment’ for ‘debt’ there seems to be some inconsistency. Does the Chancellor really want to bow to pressure groups and pass the costs of negative environmental impact on to our children?  While the Chancellor won’t bow to pressure of lobby groups on welfare reform, he does appear happy to bow to those pressure groups with vested interests who want more road traffic – haven’t the UK made major global commitments to reduce the UK carbon footprint? Has it now been decided that carbon footprint reduction is no longer an objective?

We find that decisions about investment in road infrastructure, which were rejected in 2010 and some rejected 10 years ago, have been revived. We will have £1bn investment to get us back on the road to recovery through investment in roads. It looks very like we know that vehicles aren’t good for the environment and we’re merely passing the environmental costs on to our children, and we know some of the road schemes will drive through the centre of environmentally sensitive areas, but that appears okay now. Unlike those lobby groups arguing unpalatable messages against welfare reform, it certainly appears that a lobby group’s report, which was also being conveniently published today, supporting road investment has had some bearing on the Chancellor’s U-turn.

While the Chancellor hopes that the investment will help stimulate economic recovery why did he not adopt the policy when he took the reins of our economic strategy?

Separately the Chancellor has also argued today that the new Prudential Regulation Authority must learn the lessons from the past. I previously suggested we could learn from Australia’s response to the GFC by putting in place the approval schemes necessary to have major projects ready ‘to go’ – clearly that advice wasn’t heeded.

I just wonder how long the Chancellor thinks it will take for these road-building initiatives to cascade and make a positive impact on the economy. I also wonder how long he has allowed for the various approvals and consultations to take place? Does he seriously think a shovel will be put into the ground under the foot of an unemployed navvy this side of the election?

The problem is for those of us trying to work within the framework of public procurement policy and strategy what on earth are we to make of these announcements – it appears consistency, learning from others, pragmatism and reality has been replaced with a wing and a prayer or was it replaced by lobbying? If you were trying to articulate the strategic objectives of the current government so that they could cascade to procurement what on earth would you say are the priorities? Can any lobbyists help?

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