The structures and arrangements to provide leadership, governance and accountability in public sector procurement are not working effectively. This is the conclusion of a report released today (Tuesday 25 April) by Northern Ireland’s Comptroller and Auditor General.
Dorinnia Carville’s report on Public Procurement in Northern Ireland considers the key issues relating to the procurement of goods and services, and how this is strategically managed.
Procurement is a critical function of government, estimated to consume around 25 per cent of the Northern Ireland budget. The Procurement Board (the Board) is responsible for ensuring that procurement activity is carried out effectively and delivers value for money. To achieve this, the Board is required to: develop and disseminate procurement policy; monitor the compliance of public bodies with these policies; set performance targets; and measure performance against those targets. Today’s report concludes that the Board has not sufficiently met these responsibilities during the last two decades.
The report identifies several key structural weaknesses in current procurement arrangements. It highlights the lack of an overarching strategy to coordinate procurement activity, as well as a lack of staff with the appropriate capacity and capability to effectively manage this activity. In addition, the report cites an absence of high quality and timely data, which has undermined governance and transparency, limiting meaningful oversight of the performance of public bodies involved in procurement.
While the report concludes that the Board has not been capable of demonstrating that public procurement achieves value for money, it does acknowledge recent action taken by the Board to improve how procurement works. In particular, it notes the implementation of significant new policies relating to social value and supply chain security, and a restructuring of the way in which policy and guidance is disseminated to and used by public bodies.
Reflecting on the reports findings, Dorinnia Carville commented:
“It is important to recognise that the Northern Ireland public sector delivers many successful procurements - practitioners are often frustrated by what they consider blanket characterisations of how public procurement is managed and delivered.
“At the same time, repeated criticisms, particularly in relation to large scale construction and IT projects, do demonstrate that the public procurement function remains vulnerable to these negative perceptions of widespread failure and financial waste.
“While my report does highlight examples of recent progress, strategic weaknesses in procurement arrangements remain. Until these are addressed, the fundamental changes to culture, structures and processes that are needed will not be achieved.”
Notes for Editors
- The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) is Head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (the Audit Office). She and the NIAO are totally independent of Government. The C&AG certifies the accounts of Government Departments and a range of other public sector bodies. She has statutory authority to report to the Assembly on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and public bodies use their resources. Her reports are published as Assembly papers.
- The report is available on the Audit Office website at www.niauditoffice.gov.uk. The report is embargoed until 00.01 hrs on Tuesday 25 April 2023.