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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Just Who is Briefing the Minister?

Jun 30, 2010


The new Coalition Government has made a laudable start in trying to balance the books of UK plc. Procurement has already started to feature with. Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Local Government saying recently:

"A renewed and concerted focus on better procurement, greater transparency and increased collaboration that puts the emphasis on productivity above processes can further reduce duplication and unnecessary costs."

However, on a second read I see he calls for greater transparency. By transparency he means that “all councils will, by January 2011, have to publish online details of their spending over £500.” Public procurement is already as transparent as a pane of polished glass, so what is he expecting to find and why £500?

Has anyone in the Dept of Communities and Local Government grasped what this will mean in practice and what value will be derived? Having spent years analyzing procurement spend data; this will mean that over 40% of transactions needing to be extracted and published by a top tier local authority (6-7,000 per authority). If it is anything like the information published by central government on it COINS database it will be of no value to any one, apart from the usual ‘anoraks’ currently seeking information under the FOI on weighty topics such as annual expenditure on biscuits for local Councilors.

If the threshold had been set at £5k or even £10k the typical number of transactions needed for a top tier authority would fall to 10% and 5% respectively but still giving information on 70% and 60% of current expenditure. Did any one tell the Minister that? And did any one point out that procurement resources in local government are going to be needed to deliver some serious cashable savings, which will necessitate moving away from managing trivia.

Mr. Pickles is doing the right thing in policy terms; he now needs to ensure that he is getting the best advice from his civil servants so that he hits the right targets.


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