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...

Recent Blog Posts...

Hijacking Procurement
Ken Cole
Mar 25, 2013
Mr Pickles uses the 'P word'.
Ken Cole
Mar 07, 2013
Haringey Leads London
Ken Cole
Feb 14, 2013
Time to rethink Supplier Evaluation
Ken Cole
Aug 30, 2012
Smoke and Mirrors in Whitehall!
Ken Cole
Jul 12, 2012
Collaboration at its best
Ken Cole
May 25, 2012
Latest Procurement Card Scare
Ken Cole
Mar 21, 2012
iESE - a model for a Big Society?
Ken Cole
Mar 06, 2012
I wandered lonely as a Cloud
Ken Cole
Feb 03, 2012

Politicians and Procurement don't mix

Jan 14, 2009

Problems are usually not far away when politicians devote their energies to formulating procurement policy. Their efforts usually fall into two categories. The first category is what I call 'empty rhetoric'. This is usually designed to keep the lobby groups and media happy. A good example of this category is the huge announcement by Al Gore in 1994 that e-commerce was going to be used across the US public sector which would save billions of dollars and revolutionise procurement. The outcome was nothing happened and every one forgets the commitment was ever made.

The second category is what I term as 'unhelpful meddling'. In most instances, the average politician would be advising on the benefits of aggregating drawing pins and carrying out a chair standardisation policy. And before any one comments on this, I used to be an elected politician many years ago. However, this meddling becomes more dangerous when they actually get into policy setting. If the problem was introducing competition into markets and making it easier and cheaper for companies to access public sector business, then some one clearly asked got the wrong solution when they came up with the EU Public Procurement Directives. The only things that these Directives have achieved are delays, unnecessary bureaucracy, and cost hikes as someone has to pay for the increased cost of sale.

Now Barack Obama is entering the fray. You can download a summary of his proposals here and don't worry it is only a few pages long. Clearly, a lot of this is political propaganda, but there are some interesting concepts in here. The big question for me is which of my categories does this fall into, 'empty rhetoric' or 'unhelpful meddling'? The answer may well end up being both. The US is facing big financial problems, and there are rumours that some states are now technically insolvent. Cash will need to come from somewhere. At the same time, the US government has long been into social engineering its supply base to the point at which commercial reality is suspended. Which of these will gain the backing of the President? Let me have your views via the comments sheet.


I couldn't agree more about "unhelpful meddling" and unfortunately the senior civil servants aren't clued up enough about procurement to guide them in the right direction. A great example of this is a certain Minister for Work and Pensions (and there have been a few in recent years) decided on a whim to announce that an important plank in the Welfare Reform Bill was going to be provided by the private sector. There had been no options appraisal for this but, once announced, a whole business case had to be retro-fitted to make it look viable. Of course, after working on it for a year a new Minister came in with a different idea and everyone had to do an about turn. If we had a better business case culture in the public sector, people would be forced to come up with some proper figures before launching into new policy ideas.
Michelle van Toop
29/10/2009 17:01

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