Posted tagged ‘procurement’

That was the local government week that was

May 11, 2012

More content than the Queen’s Speech

It was the Queens Speech this week. The WLLG bloggers were a bit disappointed with the Government’s progress on any number of key issues with the localism agenda and social care reform agenda seemingly ground to a halt as the Government prioritise other issues. As much as we try it is very hard to get excited about the Government legislating to complete the abolition of the Audit Commission they announced two years ago.

There were some good bits within the speech and some relevant to Local Government and you can find them summarised on the LGIU blog:

It is good to hear that there will be a Bill to create new powers for the Children’s Commissioner and improve services for children in care, both things that the LGiU has been campaigning for. Similarly, we welcome mention of legislation on the future funding of adult social care although we are concerned that the plans are vague, and we would urge the government to confirm that legislation will follow the forthcoming White Paper.   Chances of a lasting settlement on social care funding seem greater to us if the momentum is maintained and if we are far enough away from the next election.  The lessons of 2010 are that once an election is on the horizon any political consensus will break down.

And whilst checking out the LGIU do check out Andy Sawford’s alternative Queen’s Speech which is very sensible and includes:

  • The Community Budgets Bill
  • The Localism and Statutory Duties Bill
  • The Social Care Funding Bill
  • The Children’s Services Bill
  • The Primary Justice Bill

Meanwhile, whilst we were disappointed by the Government’s programme we were equally disappointed by the LGA’s response where their key messages were:

  • The LGA will continue its parliamentary lobbying work to ensure the best outcome for our member councils.
  • Councils have already shown remarkable resilience in coping with the spending cuts and local government is already the most efficient, transparent and trusted part of the public sector.
  • Within our legislative lobbying work we will be campaigning to ensure there is sustainable funding for local government going forward.

Talk about burying the lead!

Meanwhile, in non-queens speech blogging we really liked this piece from Flip Chart Fairy Tales about the battle between the younger and older workforce. Apparently, some commentators are arguing that we need older workers to stand aside to make space for those younger staff who have no jobs. Instinctively, this sounds like nonsense but Rick dissects it with characteristic verve:

Calling on older workers to retire and make way for the young might sound like a good idea. It is no way to solve youth unemployment though. As ever, keeping as much of the population as possible economically active is what makes for a prosperous and stable society. If a greater proportion of people are over 65 it makes sense, therefore, for the over 65s to stay in work. Given that people in their sixties are healthier and fitter than in previous generations, that is now possible. The same factors that make people live longer also enable them to work for longer.

If we are to counteract the costs of ageing, more older people will have to carry on working. Far from taking the jobs of the young, the working elderly are more likely to keep spending and creating jobs for the young. Accusing older workers of  job-hogging fits in neatly with the fashionable generational warfare narrative but it is nonsense. If we are to deal with the consequences of an ageing population, that ageing population will have to keep working. And that will be better for all of us.

On the topic of the fate of the young this piece from the Guardian Local Government Network could not be more unhappy with Kate Davies arguing that we are now facing a housing crisis for young people that is perhaps not going to ever improve:

Call me naive, but I had always assumed that things could only get better; that progress was what happened over time. My parents’ life was a big improvement on their grandparents, and mine on theirs.

Scientific advances, greater freedom, less poverty and more opportunity would – I thought – ensure that each generation would do better than their predecessors. I had taken the onward march of mankind for granted.

But now the evidence shows that we are going backwards.

A bit too pessimistic for my liking but the housing crisis for young people is certainly real and not being addressed properly by any politician (see Queen’s speech above).

Who would have known that there was a website called public sector travel? Well, there is and they had an interesting article this week about the endless pain caused to local government by EU procurement rules:

The Local Government Association has called on Whitehall to roll back what it sees as needless complexity in procurement flowing from the European Union.

In a procurement pledge for the local government sector, the Conservative-controlled LGA said: “Public procurement is highly regulated particularly by the European Union and over the years the European procurement rules have become more and more complicated.

“We need help from government to put the power of procurement back into the hands of local government.”

We tend to agree that there is need for reform but are not holding our breath!

And finally my favourite tweet from a council twitter account for quite a long time is this classic from Surrey Matters:

Nut lovers, did you know nut shells make great compost? #6thingsyouneverknewyoucouldcompost

Is this genius… or madness?

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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The (not so) hidden costs of squeezing our suppliers

December 5, 2011

Make the pips squeak

“Procurement savings”

“Efficient maximisation of market opportunities”

“Outsource and save”

“Hard-nosed negotiations”

Regardless of how you describe it local government is looking at any possible way of saving money it can and with over 50% of many councils budgets coming from ‘goods and services’ it makes sense to try and ‘squeeze’ our suppliers as much as we can. Indeed, in my local authority the trade unions have taken their mantra to be that no job cuts or pay cuts should be implemented until management have demonstrated that they have hit our suppliers as hard as is possible.

The Government have also been in on the act with pronouncements covering ‘procurement’ savings that could save savings of £450 per household.

So far so sensible. If we can save money by squeezing the private (and third) sector to deliver our services more efficiently then why shouldn’t we? Indeed, one could argue that to not do so is severely irresponsible.

However, as so often with pronouncements from Eric Pickles and my local Trade Union the actual detail is a lot more complex than either would let on.

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Getting simple ICT shouldn’t be complicated

November 3, 2011

Keep it Simple

My husband likes, on occasion, to cook. He doesn’t call it cooking of course: it’s culinary creation, during which he somehow manages to use every single herb and spice in the cupboard, even if he is only making an omelette. His opinoins is that because we have a lot of ingredients, to a lesser or greater degree we should make use of them.

I was reminded of this when I sat through a presentation about the latest piece of software being touted to me recently. The salesman took us through what it could do, ring all of its bells and blowing its whistles, and over the course of three hours showed us how his many other customers live their lives by the information they put in and get out of this master system.

Not once did he really think of asking us what we actually needed it to do. (more…)

The collapse of the corporate centre

August 15, 2011

Something not to throw away!

‘Never throw away your old drain-pipes’

My university lecturer was not talking about guttering but about the fashionable uber-skinny jean which had been in and out of fashion many times in his lecturing career. His argument was that if you follow local government you should be prepared to see ideas, structures and policies come in and out of fashion.

Never has a wiser word been said and as goes drainpipe trousers so goes the corporate centre within local authorities.

During the early 2000s the inspection and performance management regimes of the Labour Government were in full swing and the Audit Commission was constantly driving local authorities to improve their ‘corporate capacity’. The rationale for this was that councils were showing weak leadership from the Chief Executive down; decisions weren’t joined up and policy decisions weren’t being made from a structures evidence base.

What followed was a substantial investment in policy and performance teams. Allied to this was a renewed focus on engaging the public so added to this new central function was an investment in community engagement expertise and communications teams. On top of this was a new focus on working in partnership with local providers and a commitment to meet the Government’s equalities agenda so these teams were added to the corporate centre along with the recently amended committee teams now embarking on the new world of scrutiny.

Councils were asked to focus on centralising certain functions and teams like procurement, business improvement and project management were added to the centre; often grouped together with the others in a Chief Execs department or a deputy chief deputy chief execs team in some bigger authorities.
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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.

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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!