Civil service must do more to “cultivate” procurement talent, says Reform think tank

By Jim Dunton

07 Mar 2016

Performance-related pay for civil service procurement professionals coupled with a wider Digital Marketplace-style approach to buying goods and services could save the government up to £10 billion a year, according to a new report.

Think tank Reform says a radical change in government procurement practice would reduce annual spending by a minimum of £470m by the end of the current parliament, and could potentially save £10bn. However it cautioned the top-level savings would only be possible if the UK if it increased its use of e-procurement up to the 50%-plus levels of Estonia and South Korea.

The authors of Cloud 9: The future of public procurement said the government currently buys just 1% of its goods and services digitally, although the figure is on course to rise to 6% by 2020. They said the experience of the G-Cloud IT procurement portal showed that the cost of buying goods and services could be reduced by half with the potential for the scope for savings to be expanded.

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Key recommendations include creating “a healthier attitude towards risk” among procurement staff by introducing performance-related pay; scaling up pre-market engagement with potential suppliers by moving more of it online, and ensuring that the proposed Crown Marketplace is a single portal for e-procurement that is accompanied by an integrated payment function.

Report authors Will Mosseri-Marlio and Alex Hitchcock said the civil service should also “cultivate” procurement talent by limiting staff rotation, encouraging staff with technical skills to seek in-department promotions, and extending secondments both to and from the private sector.

Mosseri-Marlio said potential savings on offer represented “three-quarters of the annual cost of the police service in England and Wales”.

He and Hitchcock added that it was imperative that the Government Digital Service should design the Commercial Marketplace, which Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock committed to building last year, but that it should be administered by the Crown Commercial Service. 

“GDS can then continue as a disruptive force by designing software capable of reframing the way government procures goods and services,” they said.

“CCS, the defined centre for government procurement, is best placed to increase and market the use of the Crown Marketplace across government. Placing the new platform within CCS might also enable it to better understand how to expand the goods and services on offer.”

Mosseri-Marlio and Hitchcock said "well documented tension" between GDS and CCS had "hampered" procurement reform to date.

They added that the Crown Marketplace’s remit should be expanded to include “appropriate parts” of the Department for Work and Pensions’ Aspire contract.

The report was based on interviews with unnamed private-sector experts, past and present politicians, and officials at the Cabinet Office, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Crown Commercial Service, the Ministry of Defence, and Government Digital Service.

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