‘Governments need to invest more in contract management’

Finding an appropriate balance between efficacy and accountability in procurement is a challenge faced by many public servants. The Mandarin spoke to the experts about harnessing innovation while avoiding legal and political risk.

Sitting down with new providers for up to six months and taking a more cautious approach may not seem like innovation, but government procurement is risky for everyone. Especially if the depth of understanding isn’t there, say experts on both sides.

Governments need to invest more in contract management skills and innovative procurement, argues PwC partner Adrian King. Without this investment an aversion to risk will continue and easy, less productive procurement decisions will continue to be made. As service delivery tendering moves gradually towards commissioning outcomes, rather than describing how the outcome is to be delivered, many departments find this concept difficult to navigate.

The reasons the public service sometimes fails to avail itself of innovative practices, thinks King, are twofold: attitudes towards risk management and the “relative immaturity of contract management within government”. While public servants will often be punished for failure when trying new things, he says, “there’s usually not a lot of reward for getting it right or taking a risk.”

King, who sees both sides of the process — PwC consults to government agencies going to market and is also involved in winning contracts — believes contract management is “an under-invested skill set” within government.

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