Re-evaluating Competition and Contracting - A Commissioning Joint Committee Study

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Summary

Reports on the findings and recommendations of the CJC study on changes in competition and contracting in the public sector, and examines whether advice on these subjects needs to change.

Format

PDF

Published

Jul 2011

Author

CIPFA

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The CJC has completed a report on its study of these controversial subjects. Both are relied on, more heavily than ever, to achieve desperately needed economies and efficiency, while at the same time moving more public sector work to the third sector and the private sector, particularly small businesses; and achieving both greater economies of scale and the movement of more decision making to the front line.

The CJC has, as usual, tried to look at these expectations from street level. Who has to do what to make something happen, without at the same time doing too much collateral damage? From this viewpoint it soon becomes clear that not all the objectives just stated can be achieved simultaneously, and that some may not be achievable at all.

Other points often overlooked by many commentators are that competition and contracting are both changing rapidly. The traditional rhetoric of competition is still voiced, but much of it no longer has any place in reality. In the public sector, competition and contracting have to be conducted quite differently from the other sectors; and in local government they are subject to quite different constraints even from the rest of the public sector. They work quite differently for works and services from how they work for supplies. Exhortations about the first two are too often apparently based on experience of the third.

The CJC conducted a joint survey with the Association of Public Sector Excellence (APSE) to test the views of practitioners with knowledge of the subject. They drew up a questionnaire addressed to decision makers and practitioners in all disciplines in local government throughout Great Britain; and APSE, the Society of Chief Architects of Local Authorities, the Association of Chief Estates Surveyors and Property Managers in the Public Sector, and the Society of Construction and Quantity Surveyors all urged their members to take part. The questionnaire drew more than 1,700 responses.

This report draws heavily on the results obtained and quotes many of the penetrating observations made by respondents. The results strongly supported the CJC’s general feeling that it is high time for some conventional wisdom to be challenged; and for yet more to be done to address some unintended consequences of otherwise good and necessary changes:

  • is the purpose of competition in the public sector really to secure value for money?
  • are long-term contracts good for clients?
  • which if any risks are worth passing on to contractors?
  • are hard bargains an illusion?
  • are framework agreements a clients’ cop-out?
  • is joint and collaborative procurement worth the hassle?
  • are claims as to the superiority of particular types of contract, or competition procedures, believable?
  • are single-contract client partnerships and contractor partnerships worth their high cost?
  • how far can client bodies properly go to direct more work to the third sector and small businesses?

This publication is available as a book and a bookmarked PDF.