22 October 2004
Business leaders have rounded on the Commons' Public Accounts Committee for its 'blame culture' after it again criticised civil servants for not managing relationships with suppliers more effectively.
The committee has warned that increased government investment in key public services is at risk of being wasted unless departments rigorously assess suppliers' capacity to deliver services.
'Each department needs to undertake regular appraisal of their partners' strengths and resilience, and to secure a clear view of the constraints and opportunities they face,' the October 19 report states.
But the private sector is still smarting over the PAC's report on procurement, published last week, which criticised the lack of competition among suppliers and the failure to tackle poor performance.
John Williams, director of public services at the CBI, told Public Finance that the committee's aggressive approach helped to generate the very mind-set it criticised.
'It's a shame that the committee hasn't taken the opportunity to examine some of its own culture and practices, and the extent to which its adversarial questioning of civil servants and business often generates more heat than light,' he added.
Sir John Chisholm, chief executive of technology company QinetiQ and a former civil servant, said the PAC sat at the apex of a 'pyramid of negative incentives' that meant departments refused to embrace government exhortations to innovate.
'While the civil servants who must be charged with executing this policy are still burdened with the threat of exposure by the PAC, the chance of their taking the measured risks that the policy implies is vanishingly small,' he said.
But PAC chair Edward Leigh rejected the business leaders' criticisms, claiming that his committee backed 'well-managed' risk-taking.
'The PAC still sees too much public procurement and projects that are not properly managed,' he added. 'In such cases it is right that officials should explain to Parliament and the taxpayer how these failings arose and how lessons will be learned in the future.'
The row comes as the public sector is being asked to make billions of pounds in savings by improving procurement practices as part of Sir Peter Gershon's efficiency review.