Friday, 2 March 2012

MoJ Procurement capability lost in translation

Tonight's Channel 4 News carried an unfortunate story which seemed to once again call into question public procurement performance. I'm not going to try to defend the Ministry of Justice  but I do think there's a wider issue here - the effectiveness of the central government procurement improvement programmes.

When first mooted I was impressed by the concept of Procurement Capability Reviews.  They were an adaption of the former IDeA's successful Fitness Check programme.  The Fitness Check programme was considered part of the success of the National Procurement Strategy for local government.  The idea was simple:

  1. develop a best practice strategic procurement benchmark; 
  2. ensure senior management ownership and desire to be compared against the benchmark;
  3. carry out a diagnostic 'critical friend' review;
  4. identify priorities for improvement; 
  5. communicate the outputs of the diagnostic review to the political and managerial leadership; and 
  6. provide access to support, if desired.
The diagnostic could be traced back to the former OGC's Procurement Excellent Model, which in turn could be traced back to the EFQM.

A Procurement Capability Review was carried out in the Ministry of Justice. Although it now appears impossible to find the report on the web, references in the NAO report and an  associated presentation imply that a lot of room for improvement was acknowledged.  But what happened next?  A review for its own sake isn't sufficient.

What use is a diagnosis, either comparison against the Procurement Excellence Model, the Procurement Capability Review or any other theoretical model, if you also don't prescribe the cure and ensure the patient takes the cure.  You may as well have prescribed a placebo. The diagnosis just lets you know what to fix, it doesn't fix it.

Now is a good time to carry out an impact assessment of the whole Procurement Capability Review Programme. Why?  Well
  • A sample of MoJ's procurement performance over the last few months has called into question its capability, for example, IT system procurementt and tonight's Channel 4 News exposee of major problems with the procurement of translation services.  We need to be reassured that these were exceptions and not symptomatic of a larger problem. 
  • Procurement is now so central to the government's austerity strategy there is a need to be reassured that the problems identified in the past have been addressed, not just in MoJ but across the sector. If they haven't been addressed, we need to accelerate that catch-up very, very quickly. 
  • There is little sense in making the investment in development and delivery of Procurement Capability Reviews if capability hasn't actually improved.  If it has improved it would be useful to know in what way and how, so that we can transfer those lessons.  If capability hasn't improved, we also need to know 'why not?'
  • Finally, in order to form a response to the Channel 4 story and the inevitable criticism of why things have appeared so disappointing, a political narrative needs to be put together, very succinctly, which provides a compelling reassurance that progress has been made and were it not for the Capability Reviews the situation would have been significantly worse.
The Channel 4 story included footage of a previous Dragon's Den which seemed to have identified comparatively quickly major areas for concern in the MoJ provider of translation services.  It would be easy to go with the flow and throw more cheap shots at MoJ.  That won't get us too far and will only encourage defensiveness.  Instead why don't we let this serve as a catalyst.

P.S. 6 February 2013: See this link for what happened next


  1. PCR docs still avaiable - as is the whole archived OGC website - here is MoJ PCR report.

    PCRs had great potential but needed to be followed up - the Departments nobbled Nigel Smith OGC CEO and he moved to a self -assessment process which was a waste of time...

  2. The only accurate one was the Department of Education which went first. As a result, the Commercial Director left for new pastures (I guess he didn't like the answer). The MOJ one also resulted in the departure of their Commercial Director. The existing Head of Procurement came MOJ absorbing the Prison Service - good at buying beds and mattresses - not so good at buying more complex things like IT and language/translation services.