Sir, Gus O’Donnell (as reported in “West Coast fiasco exposes skills gap”, Financial Times, 4 October) has it wrong. The priority should not be on increasing the pay of senior civil servants in order to develop an in-house negotiating capability to handle every major piece of procurement that the government possibly faces in coming years. This is unlikely to be an efficient and workable solution. Nor is the increased use of unaccountable interim contractors a more attractive proposition.
As unfashionable as it may be to say so, in some cases the best approach is to bring in technical and negotiating capability from the specialist companies that can provide the expertise needed, and that are prepared to be corporately accountable in financial and reputational terms for the quality of the work they do.
The coalition government has rightly sought to tackle the excessive use of advisers and consultants by the public sector, and has commendably saved the taxpayer considerable amounts in recent years. But best practice in the private sector for a procurement as large as the West Coast rail franchise award would always be to bring in specialist outsourcing professionals, with the right expertise, to support the letting of such a contract. There is no reason why the public sector’s approach should be different from the private sector’s in this regard, and had specialist support been brought in to support the bid process from the beginning, it is much less likely that the kind of problems we have seen would have resulted. Sometimes, the use of consultants can represent real value for money to the public purse.
Andrew Hooke is Head of Government Practice and Chief Operating Officer at PA Consulting Group
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