Francis Maude is unashamedly obsessed with procurement but what's in it for suppliers?

I attended a government event all about procurement today. The Crown and Suppliers: A New Way of Working, to be exact.

I know this doesn’t sound exciting but I know for a fact that Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, has a different view. “I really mean it about being passionate about procurement,” said Maude. “We have not got it right for quite some time.”

Since the coalition government came to power Maude has been on a mission to cut government costs. IT is a prime target with billions spent on it every year.

The gist of it is that if the government can improve the process of buying IT, for example making it cheaper and quicker, millions can be saved without reducing the end product that IT promises.

But to do this Maude believes the government’s procurement teams and the suppliers should talk more. This is why this conference was held and Maude promised it was not a one-off and that there would be more.

Here are some of the points I thought were interesting:

-The government has published its first ever forward looking pipeline of contracts that will be up for grabs. Deputy government CIO Bill McCluggage tweeted that there are £25.9bn worth of government IT contracts in the pipeline up to 2017.

-Maude says the public sector should engage more with suppliers and not rely on lengthy procurement practices which make it an “exceedingly and prohibitively [difficult] doing business with government.” He said the UK is particularly bad with the public sector procurement process costing twice as much to run in the UK than in France, while it costs UK suppliers four times more to bid for public sector work compared to private sector contracts.

-He said part of the problem is related to a belief in the public sector that it is wrong, as a result of EU law, to talk to suppliers. “We need to bust a myth. It is not illegal for public sector procurement to talk to suppliers.”

-Maude believes the use of consultants should stop. “Too often in the past we have fallen into out comfort zone and hired consultants for procurement. But consultants that are paid on day rates have no desire to do procurement quickly.” He said he has “forbid” the use of consultants for central government procurement without his permission.

– The government will be training its own in-house staff so they can they can work with suppliers. “We must ensure that the skills needed to work with suppliers are in government.”

-The government will embark on different business models to achieve its objectives of value for money and effective services such as introducing mutuals, joint ventures, cooporatives and social enterprises.

– There has been an increase in the proportion of SMEs winning government contracts with 44% of the contracts signed in September won by SMEs compared to 5% in January.

-There will be standardisation of contracts and technology and more use of open standards.

-Capital expenditure will go down if the government procures IT in the right way. But it needs to understand what it has got to do this. Government CIO, Joe Harley announced the government IT assets register. 

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