Wales Audit Office publishes report on public procurement

The Wales Audit Office published its report on public procurement in Wales and on balance its findings are scathing. Here's a snippet.

In 2015-16, public bodies in Wales spent around £6 billion through procurement on a range of goods, services and works. We have concluded that national governance arrangements for procurement could be strengthened and there is clear scope for improvement in procurement arrangements at a national and local level. Public bodies also face challenges in balancing potentially competing procurement priorities, responding to new policy, legislation and technology, and in the recruitment and retention of key personnel. 

I will be looking at it in more detail in the next few days, but some of the findings should provide food for thought. Not that those working on a day to day basis would not be aware of most of the findings contained within it.

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1. Commission publishes Report on the Remedies Directives effectiveness. I suspect this is the capping stone to justify not revising the Remedies Directives which, for me is a mistake. There is a significant difference between "speedy access to review mechanisms" and "speedy final decisions". And that before even mentioning the opportunity costs of cheap litigation (Portugal) or of very expensive litigation (UK),

2. Commission launches consultation about ex ante assessment of large infrastructure projects. I can already see the line of defense if project goes south "but the Commission said we were doing everything well!" Frankly, I am quite puzzled by this proposal at least in the current format.

3. Scottish Government publishes its Procurement Strategy 2017-19. Very pro EU, except when talking about local businesses and community benefits.

4. Welsh Government puts out Brexit whitepaper.  As for procurement, it is keen in keeping access to the European Investment Bank for obvious reasons, while at the same time, railing against the current procurement rules which limits the use of procurement proactively as a tool to generate economic activity as to keep public sector expenditure in Wales (p.32). That would not be a problem if not for the stated claim that Wales also wants full access to the Single Market. I think they mean "one way street access" to the Single Market.

Links I Liked [Public Procurement - UK edition]

1. Wales will have its own regulatory powers in public procurement. I do not know how this will pan out since the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 cover Welsh contracting authorities for the most part. Maybe their powers will be restricted to regulate the areas that are not already regulated by the PCR2015, ie contracts below-thresholds whose provisions do not apply to devolved contracting authorities. Either way I would expect the Welsh Government to push some of their policies, particularly SQuiD and community benefits.

2. Central Government wants to mandate apprenticeships in large construction contracts. Now that was quick. There was a rumour flying around for the last few years that Francis Maude was really not keen on social clauses in procurement. My opinion on this is clear: no one knows the costs involved by introducing social clauses (which raise complexity and imply transaction and opportunity costs). the impact on SMEs and that these are the gateway drug to offsets as they exist in defense. There are no free lunches, but at least the Central Government will apparently limit this obligation to contracts above £10M. For now.

3. What would a 'Brexit' mean for public procurement in the UK? Not much in the short run, particularly if the UK decided to join the GPA. A useful scapegoat would be lost however (oh those damn, pesky Directives, source of all evil..).

4. More mystery shopper results. This time for July/August 2015.

5. Data in Whitehall: which UK departments are the least and most open? It is so much easier to get on the high horse of claiming transparency than actually delivering it.

6. Edinburgh drops BT for CGI, claims to save £45M over 15 years. If it is true, another sign it pays to go to the market regularly for large projects.

Links I Liked [Public Procurement]

1. A new PPP interview is up, this time with Piotr Bogdanowicz from Warsaw University. As with the previous episode we discussed at length the issues surrounding cross-border interest in contracts not covered by the Directives. Previous episodes can be found here and also on iTunes.

2. The Welsh NHS is still using Windows XP. It is not as if they did not have time to upgrade the systems...Does the Welsh NHS have a licensing agreement with Microsoft for new security patches? Central Government decided not to renew its in April.

3. Is smart ticketing innovative procurement? In this day and age I do not think so, although some are still hiding failure behind the idea that it is.

4. The cloud is coming to local councils. There is plenty of scope for digitalisation of services inside local councils, although I am not so sure if local mandarins will appreciate the loss of power, control and budget associated with the move.

5. Are procurement "best practices" just..."practice"? I have long held that view and that proper applied research needs to be done to separate the wheat from the chaff. But that requires knowledge, costs time and money and it is so much easy just to parrot a few ideas with the "best practice" label slapped on them.