The UK government appears to be moving towards centralising civil government procurement in all but name. It was less than 3 months ago that I proposed* to a UK Parliamentary committee (the Public Administration Select Committee) the creation of a ‘Crown Procurement Service’ for the whole of the public sector.
This proposal, based on my ‘Towards Tesco’ report of 2010 http://www.marc1ltd.com/about.php was derided as ‘completely mad’ by a certain commentator. Already, his comments are being overtaken by events. The ‘Crown Procurement Service’ would have relied heavily on the existing ‘Government Procurement Service, which hitherto has been providing a service largely of procurement agreements for commonly purchased categories. The National Audit Office, which has a remit to examine the efficiency of public sector organisations, criticised central government departments recently for failing to take advantage of these agreements. Towards the end of March the PASC interviewed the Government Chief Procurement Officer and found that he did not have the authority to carry out his role. He told the committee that he supported the creation of a ‘Crown Procurement Service’ and asked the committee to support his need for authority.
The government has just published its Civil Service Capability Plan. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/capabilities-plan-for-the-civil-service There is an important section on developing procurement and capability skills, which is worth summarising.
- There will be additional investment in the Government Procurement Service which will be able to provide an end to end procurement service to government departments by the end of 2013. This has started to happen with two departments and 3 more look to be in the pipeline. If successful, it can be assumed that all but the largest departments will have joined in by the end of 2014 – and possibly even they will have joined.
- A new unit will be developed to support departments with complex IT procurements. This sounds like centralisation.
- There will be a strengthened reporting line from procurement and commercial directors to the Government Chief Procurement Officer. It is not clear what this means in practice, so the CPO may still need greater authority to be able to deliver government policies.
- Establish a central database of commercial specialists by the summer of 2013.
Together with changes in the wider public sector, in that it is increasing its use of the Government Procurement Service’s agreements, the move towards an integrated procurement structure for the whole of the UK public sector is gaining momentum. It may be that my assessment that it would need to take 5 years to create may prove an over-estimate. This would be great news for the UK taxpayer and for UK economic development.
* (Note: here are the corresponding links regarding my proposal: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmpubadm/writev/proc/proc22.htm and http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmpubadm/writev/proc/proc27.htm)