Tuesday, 14 May 2013

No cause for celebration at PASC Procurement Inquiry

It's rare for me not to be interested in a discussion on procurement but I'm afraid Monday's PASC Procurement Inquiry even turned me off. It lacked any sense of enthusiasm or ambition. Instead it had a sense of resignation and despondency.  I left the discussion with a complete absence of confidence in the change management process.

What can you say about a discussion which starts off with the change champion saying procurement reform is not ambitious enough, hasn't done what was set out in current plans, ... is old fashioned, long, expensive, mitigating against small and younger businesses, .... From there it was downhill all the way, including the usual mantra of a lack of skills and lack of any serious contract management. Inspirational - not at all. Encouraging - no. Belief in the change - no.

The glimmer of hope in a potential single source 'closed loop contract' for recycled paper which would lead to a new paper mill had the potential for celebration - but stakeholder ownership hasn't been gained. Senior mandarins are considered partially to blame, yet we were also told "when people really want it to happen it can and does". Personally I would have liked someone to have asked how long that contract lock-in will be and what protection will be in place to protect against long-term supplier power?

Then we heard about reducing the cost of sending out giro cheques, yet no one asked why are giro cheques being sent out at all as opposed to BACS payments?

Procurement reform appears to be aspirational as opposed to performance managed - so all the lessons from Michael Barber's unit seem to have been forgotten!

I could go on, but the most disheartening message, to me, was the assertion that the "primary objective through procurement is getting the goods and services needed by the citizens at the best price". With a message like that is it any wonder there is inertia.

Then compare Michael Heseltine's view of the role of public procurement, which we were led to believe only a few months ago was endorsed by government:
The simple answer is to secure value for money for the public purse. Who can argue with that? The problem is that it is often equated with short term, lowest cost procurement which ignores the issues about the country’s industrial base – the exploitation of R&D, the skills we need and the creation of jobs. It also ignores international practice. No country of which I have any knowledge takes so simple a view. Although crucial in major policy areas such as defence or aerospace, the same issues are everyday challenges for ministers whether they are placing contracts for high speed trains or new IT systems. We are concerned about the destiny of our manufacturing sector but we do not spend enough time exploring the ways government can work to support it.
Then reflect that it is only a short time ago senior mandarins were being asked to deliver policy through procurement!

No cause for celebration, sadly.

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