Public procurement reform must gather pace, warns CBI
New research on public procurement from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) reveals that while firms welcome recent government reforms in the sector, progress on the ground remains slow. Lack of commercial skills, inconsistency across government departments and a short-term approach to commercial contracts are key concerns among businesses, it finds. The report - 'Getting a better purchase' - welcomes the appointment of a new senior leadership team at the Crown Commercial Service tasked with improving the public sector's commercial skills and getting better deals with external suppliers. It finds that CBI members believe improving the public sector's commercial skills is essential to transforming the procurement process. However, 61% of respondents saw "no change" in evidence of improving commercial skills, during the last year, and 21% saw a deterioration in skills. Other key findings include that 67% of firms feel government's performance in standardising procurement processes is poor; and 67% say lowest cost is still driving most contracting decisions, with only 2% saying contracts are decided on whole-life costs. With £20 billion of central government spend lying with just 39 suppliers, building a more diverse supplier base is another important strand of procurement reform, the report says. Failing to standardise procurement processes across the public sector leads to higher costs for businesses, making it more difficult for smaller firms to compete. Jim Bligh, CBI head of public services, said: "We know public procurement reform takes time, but progress has been painfully slow. The Crown Commercial Service must complete its radical overhaul of the process and tackle inconsistency and poor standards. To make this happen ministers must get behind the reform process to deliver competitive, accountable and transparent markets right across government."
Pictured: CBI poster
Cornwall partnership uses webinars to help businesses win public contracts
Cornwall Council and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership have become the first in the country to use webinars to support local businesses to win more contracts from public sector organisations. The webinars are the latest in a series of measures developed by the council as part of its Cornwall Supplier Development Programme to help small and local businesses to become more competitive in winning contracts to supply goods, works and services to the public sector.
The programme was launched in April last year and since then the programme has provided would-be local suppliers with a wide range of development opportunities and new guides, including a highly successful "Meet Cornwall's Buyers" event held in September. So far around 500 businesses from across Cornwall have been involved in events and activities. Webinar topics include issues such as 'Completing a pre-qualification questionnaire', with future sessions planned on responding to invitations to tender, an introduction to framework agreements and information on how to meeting policy requirements related to safeguarding, equality and diversity and environmental sustainability. "Businesses don't need any specialist equipment to get involved - people can see and listen to the presenter and interact with them using a standard computer and telephone and, best of all, taking part is free of charge", said Alex Folkes, the Council's Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources. All webinars will be recorded so anyone who missed them will be able to access them at any time in the future online.
Cornwall Supplier Development Programme: www.cornwall.gov.uk/supplierdevelopment
NHS Shared Business Services eyes target of £1 billion savings for NHS by 2020
One of the leading providers of business support services to the NHS is aiming to deliver £1 billion of savings through greater efficiency in non-frontline NHS services by 2020, after reaching its initial cost saving goal more than 12 months earlier than planned. NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS) was established in 2005 with a commitment to delivering £224 million of cost and efficiency savings to the NHS within 10 years, a target it says it has now reached. The organisation has achieved up to 40% savings for NHS clients through greater operational efficiencies and improved service quality within finance and accounting, employment services, procurement and primary care services, it says. Building on this, NHS SBS intends helping support the NHS to make a further £775 million of savings during the next seven years. NHS SBS is a joint venture between the Department of Health and Steria. The organisation also shares part of its surplus with its clients, which has resulted in £6 million being shared out in the last four years on top of cost savings achieved, it says. Now, NHS SBS believes even greater efficiencies can be achieved by taking a more strategic approach, encouraging the take-up of best practice procedures and providing NHS board directors with greater business intelligence. John Neilson, NHS SBS Chief Executive says: "We know that for example by implementing best practice within NHS procurement we can help NHS trusts make efficiency savings and make vast improvements in the quality of data that can then be used by finance directors to make better informed decisions. For instance, if you take a look at the retail sector, retailers achieve almost 100% purchase order compliance, whereas within the NHS this can be as low as 10%. Just by improving procurement practices the NHS would be able to track spend far more effectively, not least by being able to check that the value of supplier invoices matches the purchase order."
NHS Shared Business Services: www.sbs.nhs.uk