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BUSINESS CALLS FOR SMARTER PUBLIC PROCUREMENT

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The Confederation of British Industry today called on the government to drive through faster improvements to public...
The Confederation of British Industry today called on the government to drive through faster improvements to public procurement, arguing that a continuing lack of professional skills is preventing the delivery of value for money and increased quality in public services.

Speaking at the 2006 National Public Procurement Practitioners' Day, CBI director-general Digby Jones advocated better rewards for procurement professionals, arguing this will help improve the delivery of value for money services.

Sir Digby also argued the skills deficit and a lack of government support is holding back innovation in public service delivery.

He said: 'Ineffective procurement means ineffective services and poor value for money, and this is something the public should not - and will not

- tolerate. Government at all levels must therefore attach the utmost importance to the competitiveness, productivity and value for money public procurement delivers.

'Procurement techniques should be driving innovation, but what we are seeing is poor skills holding back progress.'

Recent CBI research* revealed 69 per cent of companies believe a lack of professional skills is a barrier to innovation in public service markets.

Seventy-nine per cent of firms do not think the government supports innovation, and 62 per cent do not think the government involves them properly at the procurement stage.

The business lobby group chief also criticised the Public Accounts Committee for taking an overly adversarial approach with civil servants.

Sir Digby said: 'Smart procurement can necessitate an element of risk-taking, and this is where effective political leadership has a key part to play. The Public Accounts Committee needs to look at real value and encourage civil servants to take risks in the pursuit of innovation and enhanced quality, not attack them for doing so.

'The committee is right to be robust in protecting taxpayers' money, but an overly hostile approach can generate unnecessary caution from procurers and encourage them to focus on lowest cost instead of long-term value. This ends up costing the taxpayer more.'

On skills, Sir Digby said it is unacceptable that the ratio in government between those with the authority to carry out procurements and those actually qualified to do so is four to one.

'The CBI wants to see the Professional Skills for Government programme and the departmental capability reviews used to address this. But our concern is this is not happening, and we want to know why.'

He also called for commissioners and suppliers of services to work together better to achieve value for money for the taxpayer, urging the government to 'make proper use of the skills and specialisms that exist within all sectors, public, private and voluntary.'

Notes

Sir Digby's speech, 'Better procurement - better delivery', is attached.

*The research for the Innovation survey was carried out by MORI on behalf of the CBI and QinetiQ. Interviews were conducted by telephone between 12 September and 7 October 2005. 173 interviews were carried out - 162 from

business,11 from universities.

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