Posted tagged ‘philip green’

Buying stuff

November 22, 2010


Putting the squeeze on


Sir Philip Green, the Topshop tycoon and BFF of X Factor’s Simon Cowell, recently wrote a scathing report detailing how the Government could save a fortune if only it learnt how to procure (i.e. buy stuff) better.

The figures that Sir Philip was talking about are mind-boggling and far beyond the scope of anything I, as a relatively junior local government officer, would ever come into contact with. However, like many local government officers I have had to buy things, and many of these times have found it somewhat frustrating.

I might not like Philip Green’s abrasive approach but surely local government procurement bears no relationship to how it works in the private sector, surely.

I should state that I am not a procurement officer and therefore am not privy to all the processes that go into making a good procurement.

However, my experience of the procurement process is that it is mighty complicated.

Big procurement exercises can involve pre qualification questionnaires, lengthy submissions in response to detailed specifications, interviews with the providers, further clarification interviews, visits to local authorities who had already procured the thing we’re interested in before then eventually looking at the pricing. It can take ages and in tight projects can be a mighty pain in the backside.


Loving the audit

October 13, 2010

Audit twice in one week... Eeekk

On Monday morning Philip Green (he of Topshop and Simon Cowell friendship fame) was lecturing the public sector about how bad we were at spending the public’s money. As part of his report he criticised the National Audit Office for focusing too much on individual projects, programmes and departments and not looking at the macro level of Government spending, especially in terms of purchasing and procurement. At the same time my authority announced a 50% cut in our internal audit team.

As you can see audit was very much in the news which is a rare event.

All this was going on whilst I was pondering the value of the so-called armchair auditors so it seemed sensible to follow up on a few points from Monday before I forgot.

In my previous post about armchair auditors on Monday I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if it was even possible for members of the public to act as armchair auditors. I pointed out that I didn’t know whether the figures I was reading meant what I thought they did, what context caused the figures, or what I could even do about it.

The response caught me by surprise a little. A few correspondents commented on the piece and I learnt that:

1)      £15 million a year seemed a lot for an organisation to spend on this sort of payment

2)      The way the dates were spread suggested I might need to take my assumptions with a pinch of salt and

3)      That an authority in central London spent 23% of their staffing budget on temporary staff

I was also prompted to do some of my own research and discovered that my own authority spent just over 10% of its budget on temporary staff (much less than those crazy cats in central London!)

And that is from a small blog and a post with just three lines of data in. (Apologies for that as my original had the full lines squashed onto the page; the version you can all read just has the name of the company ad I can’t work out how to fix it).

Maybe, it is possible for us to become armchair auditors if we are able to harness the wisdom of crowds and people are willing to contribute. And if so, it could be a very powerful tool.

However, here is my second potential fly in the ointment: how do we compare local authorities with each other? My authorities 10% of temporary staff might be a very poor performance based on the circumstances (I think so) whereas the 23% in inner London might be a good performance because of the situation they face.

It’s possible we don’t need to compare data and can audit by asking awkward questions but I can’t help thinking we need something more to truly understand whether our authorities are spending correctly… If only we had a commission of some sort to audit local authorities?

Seriously though, the rise of the armchair auditor is here but I think it needs some more thinking… Thoughts please!