Major reforms are coming to public procurement in the wake of a significant blog post by the Prime Minister’s Chief Special Adviser, Dominic Cummings.
Mr Cummings appears intent on bringing comprehensive reform to major Government procurement procedures in the approaching post-Brexit era, with fairness and transparency appearing as much at the top his agenda as substantial cost reductions.
Last March, he rather stridently asserted:
“MPs constantly repeat the absurd SW1 mantra that ‘there’s no money’ while handing out a quarter of a TRILLION pounds every year on procurement and contracting.”
Writing in the Financial Times, former central government public procurement lawyer
David Allen Green largely agrees with Mr Cummings’ criticisms that the Whitehall procurement system, which is predominantly governed by EU law, and is complicated, tardy and uneconomical.
Green concurs that it is dominated by a small concentration of powerful, established providers (“true corporate looters”, in Mr Cummings’ more colourful language) which effectively squeezes out small and medium-sized suppliers (the process is labyrinthine, and contracts are often prohibitively costly to bid for).
The blog hints that the new Conservative administration, with its large majority, will refashion many Whitehall procurement functions by drafting in new talent, distributing responsibilities differently among existing departments, creating new ministries and possibly retiring others.
The proposals coincide with the Whitehall Reimagined document from the Policy Exchange think tank, which excoriated public procurement and outsourcing for its high-profile failures such as Carillion and the continually rising costs of High Speed 2.
The document recommends that, once government is free of “the bureaucratic and anti-commercial requirements of the EU”, tendering should be repurposed to emphasise outcomes in preference to processes, and the grounds for legal challenges to contract awards should be strictly reduced.
Public sector procurement pros will be continuing with many of their day-to-day duties, from category management to supplier relationship management to spend analytics and strategic sourcing. But the writing is on the wall: a radical shake-up of existing procedures is coming, sooner rather than later.