On Friday I discussed the evidence of the local government panel witnesses to the Communities and Local Government Committee Inquiry into procurement. My main issue was the reliance was the absence historical evidence which should have been easy for LGA to access. My second criticism was the danger of hubris, ripping up the rule book and believing you alone have discovered the Holy Grail - passion in your work is great but it will not count for much when hindsight is what judges you, if not the legal profession.
So that was the first witness panel's evidence, the second panel gave evidence from UNISON and the National Outsourcing Association - as you would expect these two opponents traded unhelpful blows with each other on outsourcing. It did strike me as strange though that the earlier session hadn't sought answers from the local government witnesses on outsourcing. Equally, why didn't the Committee follow through with UNISON and NOA on the local government witnesses evidence on social value - absolutely no triangulation of the evidence!
I cringed when the UNISON spokesperson referred to the DeAnne Julius report as "outdated and largely based on CCT" - now let me think, wasn't CCT led to rest nearly ten years prior to the report?
Kelly Hollard (for NOA) was spot on in highlighting the importance of culture and leadership - strange those from local government, in the previous session, missed those key ingredients. UNISON catalogued some of the well documented outsourcing failures, but made no effort to provide suggestions on what had been learnt. NOA wrongly gave credit to UNISON for shining the light on what had gone wrong but, I'm afraid I have a different opinion, UNISON talked about failures but not the cause - the Committee need to know how to make things better and that can't be based on dogma. The UNISON punches really seemed to have been the equivalent of punching yourself in the face - to me they were suggesting their own members hadn't exercised due diligence in the procurements discussed. A similar self punch in the face was launched in suggesting that council officers are not carrying out robust make/buy appraisals! UNISON could also have drawn on the former Audit Commission recommendation in Competitive Procurement that you shouldn't outsource a weak service but instead invest in it to improve its performance prior to outsourcing.
The question of the day had to be that posed by Mark Pawsey to UNISON: "is it fair to say you are not keen on outsourcing?"
Then we had UNISON using evidence of a RIEP funded consultancy project when a subsequent UNISON report arrived at different conclusions.
So after the two opponents finished trading blows, what on earth can the Committee conclude? Will this Monday's session provide anymore insights?
It will be interesting to see how the Committee will come to a decision on what can be learnt from the investment in RIEPs and their fore-runners, the Centres of Procurement Excellence, yet so far that seems to have passed them by? Could it be that all things associated with the previous Labour Government have been sno-paked out of the procurement improvement history books - it was notable that even the LGA had suffered from amnesia regarding the former procurement skills development programme! If the CLG Committee want to understand what works they need to dig deeper and reflect on all the initiatives undertaken, at least since Byatt.