Having worked for 10 years for a large international management consulting firm which routinely won very large government contracts, I believe that the pressure Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude MP is exerting on procurement processes for IT and other government contracts has to be welcome. Too often over the last decade, I saw examples of where the scope for massive IT projects was changed numerous times by government departments, and the cost went up and up and up. Often this meant that the public purse suffered and that the project was not delivered in the way originally intended.
Changing processes, opening up to new, smaller suppliers and increasing the transparency of the procurement process will deliver savings. A tight focus on margins and the re-negotiation of contracts will also reduce wasteful expenditure in the short term. However, the bigger challenge will be to implement a revolution in the mindset across Government which means that, in future, before any significant contracts are awarded by any Minister, we know why we are buying something and what we are going to get in return – and that the purchase gives the taxpayer increased value for money.
The real issue is not who delivers government services, but clarity over what returns will be made on investment. I am always confused when governments do not articulate clearly what public sector value looks like: of course it is not the same as a return on investment in a business, but the Government needs to show clearly what the outcome expected is from taxpayers' investment – it is not the Government's money, after all.
I don't have a set view of what size a provider organisation needs to be, or how big the contract a government offers should be. What I'm more concerned about is that government can enable better social, economic and health outcomes for the people they serve. So whilst the changes afoot must be welcome, we need to bring into focus the bottom line that matters to voters – an improvement in their experience of Government, and a clear picture of what they can expect from the money that we spend on their behalf.