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Reforms needed to implement effective public sector e-procurement

Increased virtual services are important for reducing inefficiency and waste in public sector procurement, but reforms are needed to implement them effectively, according to a new report.

In its paper ‘Cloud 9: The Future of Public Procurement’, the think tank Reform recommends e-procurement as a means of meeting the government’s drive for cheaper and faster procurement of goods and services, which currently costs around £40bn a year.

It says the government has made some progress in this area, for instance by surpassing a target of 25% of procurement spend going to small or medium-sized businesses and using G-Cloud, an online digital marketplace for cloud services from the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), which has delivered 20-50% savings. The government is now planning to launch the Crown Marketplace, a new procurement platform.

Reform says the Crown Marketplace “presents a considerable opportunity – to make the most of it, the Cabinet Office must think big”.

But the think tank warns that factors such as the relationships between CCS and the government, who have had disputes over matters such as whether to include agile development services in the digital marketplace, and lack of commercial experience among government staff, are barriers to effective expansion of e-procurement.

A 2014 survey of CBI members found that 61% had seen no change in improved commercial skills of civil servants during the last year, and 21% had seen a deterioration, leading to a lack of progress in improving procurement.

The report’s recommendations to the government include making the new Crown Marketplace a single portal with an expanded list of services and information on forthcoming procurements, cultivating procurement talent by limiting rotation, creating a healthier attitude towards risk by introducing more performance-related pay for procurement officials, and scrupulous collection of internal spending data.

In November a report from the Government Digital Service said that the government’s plans to introduce open contracting in the public sector could make local authorities’ procurement processes safer and more transparent.

Cllr David Simmons, chair of the Local Government Association’s Improvement and Innovation Board, wrote for PSE last year about the work going on at councils to improve procurement processes.

To view the report from Reform, go here.


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