By Tony Collins
David Pitchford Executive Director of Major Projects Authority at the Cabinet Office, told MPs this week of the need for departments to boost skills in drawing up and managing contracts.
Unable to offer salary incentives to recruit the best people, and restricted in the hiring of consultants departments may need to “get innovative about it”, said Pitchford.
This could mean asking suppliers for help in managing supplier contracts.
Pitchford is the antithesis of the circumlocutory, prevaricating and procrastinating Sir Humphrey. He was being questioned by Conservative MP Richard Bacon at a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee on PFI and other projects.
The Major Projects Authority is looking, among other things, at CSC’s £3.1bn contracts on the National Programme for IT in the NHS.
Bacon said he hoped that Pitchford would be able to do more than spread best practice which the Office of Government Commerce “has been doing for the last 10 years and it hasn’t got us very far”.
Pitchford replied that the “environment here is pretty fraught”. He said:
“We cannot buy in people through salary boost. You can’t hire consultants under the operational construct we have at the moment. We have to get innovative about it.
“We need to have a genuine commercial exchange with suppliers that we engage with in procurement to … provide people to come in and help us…”
He said the public sector needs additional commercial and particularly contract management capability.
“This is fundamental. One of the critical failings, in general, in projects, in projects across the civil service, is a lack of contract capability – to draw up a contract and then manage it.”
He said that government should end up as the “best advantaged party”. Departments needed a better commercial understanding when putting a deal together.
“We are also looking to get much more participation from the civil service at the higher level in review of projects, by going to places we have never gone before: that is to seek out at director general level, and director level, within departments, those people who have got specific capabilities.
“We have also looked at – and this is a new area as well – trading functions in the public sector where there are people that are 100% commercially oriented.”
Pitchford says he hopes to have a pilot signed off next week which will allow 12 people to “come in and start to educate operational capability”.
“My focus is on the projects that are high risk, high value. The skills we are talking about here are applicable particularly at the outset of projects.”