Thursday, 27 June 2013

A spending review anomaly for procurement policy

The Spending Review provides an opportunity to gain some insights into public procurement policy, so it is worth looking slightly deeper than the common headlines of cuts, cuts, cuts.

First it is worth reflecting on what I think was the last relevant report on DCMS procurement by the National Audit Office - at that time, (admittedly November 2005) the view was:
"Procurement is an area where the Culture, Media and Sport sector can achieve significant savings and improvements. Whilst the sector has made some progress in improving its procurement capabilities and practices, a great deal more can be done. A greater level of commitment from organisations to adopting good practice, as well as addressing specific issues such as greater collaboration between organisations when buying common goods and services, will result in greater value for money." (Sir John Bourne, 30 November, 2005).
Is the new freedom to opt out of government procurement procedures an acknowledgement that DCMS has so significantly improved procurement that they should be cut loose from the constraints applicable elsewhere in the sector? If that is the case, which I doubt, it would be useful to understand how they have brought about greater collaboration, which just has not been achieved elsewhere in the public sector, for example, the police?
Is the freedom an acknowledgement that existing government procurement procedures are inappropriate? If so, why release one part of the sector rather sort out the procedures for all departments?
Did Arts Council England and the national museums actually ask for this freedom, if so what was the business justification? What precedent has been set and how will it be applied to the next petition for 'opting out'?

What particular areas of government procurement procedures will Arts Council England and the national museums be released from and have those relaxations been risk assessed? Are major construction projects, grants, and commodity goods and services included? Have new procedures been drafted, if so, can we hear what the proposed new procedures are? Will those procedures be 'leaner'?
Assuming government procurement procedures exist to provide value for money, achieve public policy and provide a shield to protect those involved in public procurement from criticism; how will those objectives now been satisfied?
On the heels of so much debate on greater use of 'centralised' contracts, has the so called 'mandating' just been set aside?
Will the independence bring with it reduced costs for what is procured? If yes, then some serious questions need to be asked about the 'centralisation agenda'? If costs increase, how will that be justified? Will a baseline for future comparison even be established and published?
To be truthful, I just can't understand the freedom as it seems to go against the tide - I'd like to have heard the view of Francis Maude, Margaret Hodge and Bernard Jenkin?

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