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Independence doubts curb National Procurement Service

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Forecasts savings were over-optimistic: Nick Ramsay

ALTHOUGH spend through the National Procurement Service (NPS) is increasing, it has not developed as quickly as expected resulting in concerns over its funding and less than anticipated savings.

A report from the Wales Audit Office has also suggested that some public bodies think the NPS is too close to the Welsh Government.

Public bodies spent £234 million through the NPS in 2016-17, but this was well short of previous estimates, a report by the Auditor General for Wales has said.

Although spend through its procurement arrangements has increased year-on-year since its inception in 2013, public bodies are not using the NPS as much as anticipated. Of the £234 million spent through NPS in 2016-17, the 73 member organisations spent £222 million. NPS’s 2015 business plan had targeted a figure of £2.2 billion.

Until the end of 2015-16, a £5.9 million Welsh Government ‘Invest-to Save’ loan covered most of NPS’s operating costs. The Welsh Government expected that NPS would then start repaying the loan from surplus income generated by a supplier rebate. However, the rebate generated only £0.9 million in 2016-17 compared with operating costs of £2.8 million. Although there are signs of income increasing in 2017-18, NPS is still not expecting to cover its costs. The Welsh Government has used its reserves to meet the shortfall.

As at August 2017, NPS has reported savings for public bodies of £14.8 million for 2016-17 as well as wider benefits to the economy such as job creation and direct spend with Welsh suppliers. While the reported savings have increased year-on-year, the figures have been substantially lower than some early estimates.

The report also found that some public bodies have been concerned that the NPS is not sufficiently independent from the Welsh Government and that its focus is towards national issues rather than local priorities.

The report makes five recommendations on issues including:

  • identifying why public bodies are not using NPS as much as anticipated;
  • clarifying the process for members opting-out of using NPS procurement arrangements; and
  • agreeing a sustainable funding mechanism for the NPS.

Huw Vaughan Thomas said today “There is still broad in-principle support for the NPS, but it is vital that public bodies have confidence in it and it is clear that previous expectations about the growth of the NPS are a long way from being met. The NPS needs to do more to identify and address the reasons why public bodies choose not to use its procurement arrangements and to convince public bodies of the benefits.”

The Chair of the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay AM, said: “The National Procurement Service (NPS) has an important role to play in getting a better deal for public bodies for their goods and services and in delivering the Welsh Government’s wider procurement policy objectives.

“The Auditor General’s report makes clear that the NPS is falling well short of what appears in hindsight to have been over-optimistic expectations about the amount of public spending that it would be able to influence, at least in its early years.

“The report raises some broader questions about public bodies’ commitment to collaborative purchasing and about the balance between national and local priorities, and the overall governance of the NPS.

“The Committee will be considering this report about the NPS alongside the Auditor General’s wider report on Public Procurement in Wales, published last month.”

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Politics

The Reshuffle

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Weak and stable: Theresa May's 'major reshuffle' unravels

THE PRIME MINISTER’s attempt to reshuffle her ministerial team dissolved into a non-event on Monday and Tuesday (Jan 9-10).

The dramatic transformation trailed in largely sympathetic coverage in right wing broadsheets on online news outlets, failed to materialise as the reshuffle started with farce and proceeded to chaos as Monday unfolded.

The opportunity for the reshuffle was generated by the loss of former First Secretary of State Damian Green following a finding he had breached the ministerial code by being less than honest during an investigation into his conduct before he was a government minister.

The Conservative Party chair, Patrick Loughlin was widely supposed to be up for the chop; however, a tweet from Conservative HQ managed to not only pre-empt his departure but announce the appointment of the wrong person to his job, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

Things were complicated by the unexpected departure of the Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, who requires surgery just at a time when discussions regarding the long-running suspension into the Northern Ireland Assembly are moving into a new phase and are being given added urgency by Brexit negotiations.

While Jeremy Hunt was being predicted for a significant promotion from Health Secretary, the continuing crisis within the English NHS was suggested as a significant bar to him succeeding to the senior post previously held by Damian Green. Instead, Mr Green’s Cabinet Office role went to David Lidington but without the title of First Secretary of State.

Mr Hunt remained the centre of the drama by reportedly refusing to leave his post of Health Secretary to take up that of Business Secretary. A lengthy discussion on his role took place, with Mr Hunt emerging still Health Secretary and with responsibility for the government’s social care policy added to his portfolio.

Mr Hunt’s reluctance to move, meant that incumbent Business Secretary Greg Clark, tipped for demotion after some uninspiring performances, stayed in place.

The ramifications of Mr Hunt standing his ground unfolded when Justine Greening dramatically quit the government following a two and a half hour meeting with Theresa May, during which she was offered the post of Work and Pensions Secretary, having only recently taken control of the government’s struggling equalities policy within her former role.

Following her resignation, Justine Greening tweeted pointedly: “Social mobility matters to me & our country more than my ministerial career.”

As Mrs May’s options narrowed, even Andrea Leadsom – managed to retain her post as Leader of the House of Commons.

While other parties piled into attack the reshuffle, the Conservative’s press office managed to ignore the fact that ministers had quit and refused to be moved by claiming the Cabinet was the right team to lead the country. Bearing in mind that a few hours earlier the party’s own leader did not share that view, the statement demonstrates the depths of Theresa May’s humiliation and powerless state. Unable to move ministers she wanted to move and carry out the reorganisation she wanted, instead of new lamps for old around the Cabinet table, it appears that Mrs May has found the limits of her power and there has been much heat but no new light.

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Politics

The party’s over for new UKIP AM

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A week is a long time in politics: New AM shunned by own party

THE IDEA that UKIP is less a political movement than a long running feud has been given more credence by the Assembly group’s refusal to admit new UKIP AM Mandy Jones to their number.

UKIP has shed two AMs since the Welsh Assembly elections. Mark Reckless left to be with but not of the Conservative Party, while Nathan Gill, who left the group after being displaced by current leader Neil Hamilton, now departed to concentrate on the European Parliament after being notable for his poor attendance in Cardiff Bay.

Under the regional list system, Mandy Jones – the third choice UKIP candidate on the North Wales list – succeeded to Nathan Gill’s vacated seat on December 29.

Her succession to the seat was lauded by UKIP’s Assembly leader Neil Hamilton, who said: “We are looking forward to welcoming our new team member, Mandy Jones into the group. UKIP is stronger with an additional member in the National Assembly and on the front foot in Wales. We are looking forward to 2018, where we will be even more active and vocal, as we continue to stand up for the people of Wales against the cosy Cardiff Bay consensus.”

However, having been on the front foot UKIP now seems to have taken two steps forward and one step back.

A press statement released by the part on Tuesday (January 9) said: ‘After discussions with Mandy Jones, AM for North Wales, we have collectively and unanimously decided that she will not be joining the UKIP Group in the National Assembly.

‘Despite being asked by all five members of the Group not to do so, she has chosen to employ individuals in her office who are either members of, or have recently campaigned actively for, other parties, or both. They have been personally and publicly abusive to some of the UKIP AMs and sought deliberately to undermine UKIP Wales. Their behaviour and attitude makes it impossible to work with Mandy Jones on a basis of confidence and trust.

‘The UKIP Wales Group are united in this decision’.

The release repeated UKIP’s pledge to ‘continue to speak against the cosy Cardiff Bay consensus.’

That promise appears likely to be borne out, bearing in mind its inability to form a consensus with those elected under its party colours.

Those Mandy Jones has chosen to appoint to work with her were all members of former UKIP leader Nathan Gill’s staff.

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Politics

WG announces £50m Brexit fund

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Carwyn Jones needs to up his game: Mark Isherwood AM

FIRST MINISTER Carwyn Jones has announced a significant cash boost to help Welsh businesses and public services plan and prepare for Brexit.

The EU Transition Fund – supported by an initial £50m – will be developed in partnership with Welsh businesses, public services and other key organisations, to provide tailored support as the UK prepares to leave the EU.

The fund will provide a combination of financial support and loan funding, and will support the provision of technical, commercial, export-related and sectoral-specific advice for businesses.

In addition, the EU Transition Fund will be designed to help employers retain and continue to attract EU nationals, who make a crucial contribution to Wales. The fund will underline Wales’ welcome to people from other countries who have made Wales their home.

The fund will also provide dedicated development support for Wales’ agricultural industry as it prepares for transition and the future once the UK has left the EU.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “Brexit poses different challenges and opportunities for each and every aspect of Welsh life – from our local businesses and major employers, to our farmers, hospitals and universities.

“The EU Transition Fund will help meet the challenges that lie ahead. Developed in partnership with our businesses and public services, it will provide targeted and innovative support, which will help them survive and, indeed, thrive outside the EU.

“I am making an early announcement about this fund, so we have the greatest opportunity to design this fund with those organisations and businesses it is intended to help.

“My priority is to ensure Wales is in the best possible position to deal with the challenges and opportunities ahead. As a government, we are committed to providing solutions which work for Wales and we will continue to work with partners to make the most of every opportunity.”

The £50m EU Transition Fund is supported by an initial £10m down payment in the 2018-19 final budget. It builds on £5m allocated for Brexit preparedness over 2018-19 and 2019-20 as part of the 2 year Budget agreement with Plaid Cymru.

Responding to the announcement Welsh Conservative Brexit spokesman, Mark Isherwood said: “In the Autumn Budget the Chancellor announced an extra £3bn to help prepare the UK for Brexit and once again, Carwyn Jones and his Welsh Labour Government is playing catch-up.

“This is a small step in the right direction but sadly for Wales, since the referendum, the First Minister and his government has been in a state of paralysis, which has ensured that our country has been a step behind.

“I have long called on the First Minister to end his prophecies of doom and gloom over Brexit and provide the people of Wales with words of confidence, optimism and importantly a plan to lead our nation to success.

“Carwyn Jones urgently needs to up his game and ensure that Wales is sufficiently resourced and prepared to embrace the opportunities and tackle the challenges that lie ahead.”

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