I regularly hear complaints that public sector procurement is dominated by a cartel of a dozen or players advised by teams of consultants (often former civil servants) and that any small firm with an innovative solution should run a mile before it is suckered into making futile bids and bankrupted. Yesterday my attention was drawn to the opportunity for the whingers to have their say.
The Office of Fair Trading recently issued a call for information on the supply of ICT services to the public sector including barriers to changing supplier and barriers to entry, especially for smaller businesses.
I personally have very strong views on the way that framework contracts have been used to replace in-house services by expensive and inefficient monopolies, such as Civil Service Learning on which I have blogged before. I believe there should be a competitive market for procurement services, with league tables showing their costs, efficiencies, audiences (both buyers and suppliers) and throughput (over time) so that central and local government operations can make informed decision which to use, for what – and suppliers can decide which are good sources of business and therefore worth the cost and time of bidding to join.
My thoughts were informed by the EURIM Public Sector Procurement Group which assembled much good material on the subject, which I hope will be made available to the OFT. Unfortunately that group failed to find support for action and could not even agree on a public status report. The divisions between vested interests, particularly those running procurement services, were too great. The draft reports are therefore only available to members, although links to much of the source material are available on the sub-group web-page
I therefore strongly encourage you to visit the OFT website , discuss with your peers and respond – individually and collectively. This topic is far too important to be left to Cabinet Office, regarded by most of Whitehall as Public Enemy Number Two* – and therefore doomed to fail when it comes to reforming public sector procurement – even if it could agree what reform should look like.
Note that the deadline for response is 18th August.
* Public Enemy Number One is, of course, The Treasury.