Gary Flood

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Has All The Brave Talk About SMEs In Government Been PR?

Jun 26, 2014
Big is still beautiful when it comes to public sector spend, it seems.

How else to interpret today’s fascinating study by the Institute for Government on who is buying what in both our Town Halls and Whitehall?

The study, produced in partnership with the Spend Network (you can read our report on it here), seems to be doing what the Coalition started talking about four years ago: offer real visibility into how exactly our tax (Council and state) is being spent. (Why we still don’t really have such visibility I leave as an exercise for the reader.)

And what has the well-respected think tank found? A mere 20 companies got paid the overwhelming majority of the £21bn lashed out on our behalf by 250 central and local bodies.

Six of that number were what we would consider straight IT firms – with HP (partly due to its EDS legacy) coming well ahead of that pack. But you have some players in things like outsourcing that pretty much fit this mould too, to be honest.

So - four years on from when we were told government wanted to end the Oligopoly, have we really seen that much progress?

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, given that the researchers themselves say it was bloody hard work getting even this level of estimation as to what is really being bought, by whom, and what for.

We will leave that row aside. What matters: British pubsec ICT is still a very cosy buyers club.

This is partly the fault of buyers, yes: I refer you without comment to the slow progress of the G-Cloud.

But part of it has to be down to the way the supply side has been given the whip hand here.

I think we should worry about that.

After all, wasn’t it the Spiritual Father of Capitalism himself, the sainted Adam Smith, who warned us in 1776 that, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices”?

More progress on getting that list of 20 to be more like 200, please.

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