Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Releasing procurement shackles worries for Labour

It surprises me how rarely we actually hear how procurement
will shape the next UK election manifestos. Yet today Sky News, The Financial Times,  and The Times all gave notice that Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, will demand an immediate freeze on new contracts between the NHS and the private sector.  The logic of the argument appears to be that Labour do not want to be shackled by 5 year contracts let under the coalition, should Labour come into government next year. If that's a prelude to the manefestos I dread to think how robust the forthcoming policies will be.

However, is Andy Burnham's call sensible? 
  1. Burnham needs to provide clarity on which contracts should be ring-fenced for freezing. You clearly can't stop NHS contracting completely if you want to make sure the Service functions under a business as usual for users during a future change in political leadership, anyway it would be bonkers to suggest the NHS shouldn't have IT licences, for example, in place. 
  2. The NHS contracts register should be shared with Labour, and the other Parties, so that they can have visibility of which contracts are coming up for review over the coming year. The parties could then policy access those contracts for impact and agree which can proceed As-Is.
  3. Potential contracts which could be impacted by future policy can then reviewed in more detail with Politcial Advisors to ensure their interests are protected, for example, break clauses could be included and means for sharing the cost of uncertainty to providers estimated.
It strikes me that Andy Burnham couldn't possibly be calling for a blanket ban on the award of contracts but perhaps those in the NHS and his advisors need to provide clarity how to protect his interests while avoiding NHS meltdown. Pragmatism is required as opposed to rhetoric. 

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