Slavish adherence to public sector procurement frameworks may well help to keep costs under control. But when it comes to recruitment at the most senior level there is a real risk that those same frameworks can go wrong and fail the organisations they seek to serve, says Neil Lupin.
A survey by the CBI last autumn found that public sector procurement remains too slow, complex and costly to the taxpayer. One issue the findings highlighted is that the proliferation of public sector procurement frameworks that now exist are contributing to this complexity.
While public sector frameworks can certainly deliver economies of scale when successfully operated, when it comes to the recruitment of senior-level personnel, I would argue that these frameworks can stifle competition and introduce risk while offering no real cost savings.
Most large councils, government departments and an increasing number of NHS trusts now have some sort of outsourced recruitment solution. This means that one company is appointed to manage suppliers across all spend categories – theoretically covering everything from entry-level positions through to board appointments.
Huge spend can be driven through such frameworks and for many categories of appointment they work reasonably well. But there is a worrying trend of these neutral or master vendor frameworks also being used to recruit to highly sensitive, senior and business-critical posts.
These frameworks are designed to increase speed and drive cost from the supply chain (ie the recruitment agencies) and there is an inevitable risk that this is done at the expense of quality and therefore ultimately of best value. This might be less apparent at a junior level, where the process is necessarily more transactional, but it causes real problems when it comes to specialist appointments.
Coveting speed and price over quality of delivery and outcome forces recruitment suppliers to become reactive to the detriment of innovation. The desire to cut costs is hardly surprising given the government’s agenda to cut the deficit, but an unintended consequence of a slavish overuse of bureaucratic frameworks is that they can stifle the very value they set out to achieve in the first place.