The Home Office response to the National Audit Office report on the failure of the centralised police procurement service is yet another example of the common Whitehall approach of reinforcing failure instead of success. Few, if any, centralised procurement services live up to expectations, save in organisations with standardised and/or homogeneous operations – such as high street retailers. Even fewer of those that are mandatory have been genuine successes – delivering cost effective service, genuine savings and not just meeting nominal targets. Most mix corruption, inefficiency and waste. The reasons can be found in the writings of C P Snow and, more succinctly, of C Northcote Parkinson.
The solution can be found in the non-mandatory procurement co-operatives of local government and the private sector which have to compete on price, efficiency and quality of service. A government that supposedly believes in market principles should understand that these also apply to procurement services. It should publish league tables covering the the performance of the procurement services available to the public sector, including both central and local government, allow freedom of choice and expect those using the apparently more slower, less efficient and more expensive services to explain why. There can be good reasons as well as bad, but without public accountability we will never know.