About the Author

Ken Cole
SPS Consultancy

Ken Cole has worked in senior positions in both the public and private sectors and was one of the founding Directors of SPS in 2001. He recently completed a three year secondment as Director of the London Centre of Excellence. Ken has thrilled many public and private audiences with his incisive analysis, robust delivery and his belief in 'telling it as it is'. His blog is a regular commentary of the improvement and efficiency agenda.

Make sure you pay a frequent visit to find out Ken's latest thoughts on the workings of government, the latest policy initiatives and much more...

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David Cameron creates a Procurement Hullabaloo

Mar 14, 2011

 

Public procurement officials clearly are not in favour as far the PM is concerned. At a recent Tory conference he stated that they “think that the answer to everything is a big contract with a big business and who shut out millions of Britain's small- and medium-sized companies from a massive potential market". He is of course right in many respects, but as with all politicians he can only see the symptoms – not the causes. These are far more deep rooted and not surprisingly they make awkward reading for both headline grabbing politicians and pedestrian procurement officials alike.

There are five causes:

1)     The UK’s slavish adherence to the EU public procurement directives for fear of committing the heinous crime of ‘breaching the thresholds”. Quite frankly only the most determined of SMEs would want to incur the overhead of taking part in the charade that this has now become

2)     The proliferation of framework contracts which, as most SMEs know, invariably turn out to be a lot of work for no reward. Note for public procurement officials – you don’t stand a chance of saving any money unless you have committed volumes of business!

3)     The pursuit of social utopia – burdening business with signing up to all manner of political fetishes designed to ‘’extend rights’ or ‘save the planet’. Many SMEs simply vote with their feet and give the public sector a wide berth

4)     Procurement is (or should be) a management discipline supporting cost control. In the public sector it has become an administrative function supporting process adherence

5)     Market conditioning is rife. Big companies see the public sector as a soft target for selling their solutions/ services and they have the resources to do it, whereas for SMEs this is an overhead they simply cannot afford.

Add this lot up and the causes can be very clearly seen. Points 1 and 3 are the fault of politicians and 2, 4 and 5 are down to poor leadership from top public sector officials. But hang on; the top managers in the public sector are accountable to the politicians. So it is 5 out of 5

Message to David Cameron: if you want to support SMEs, you urgently need to rethink your own policies!

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