Government’s buying strategy under attack

The Government is failing to recognise the effective role of design in its buying strategy and is hampered by design-illiterate procurement staff, a political think-tank claims.

Government design buyers, charged with spending 40bn a year on goods and services, must be properly trained in design effectiveness, and good procurement awarded with a “design effectiveness mark”, the Social Market Foundation (SMF) says.

“How can they be expected to assess properly how [design] might provide better value for money?” the SMF asks in its memorandum, Better Government By Design: Improving the Effectiveness of Public Purchasing.

“If Government is to achieve its aim of reducing unnecessary expenditure it will have to become more proficient in the way it buys,” it adds. Design management training should be added to the Certificate of Confidence, central government’s two-year training programme for its key purchasing staff.

As well as making savings for Government departments, an understanding of design in procurement would make UK business more competitive: “By demanding good design from the companies providing Government with goods and services, the standard of design management within those companies will be driven up more effectively than by any advertising campaign,” the SMF report argues.

Conversely, the foundation warns that poor purchasing leads to non-competitive practices where Government is the main client, “leading to reduced exports to the world market”.

SMF has mooted the idea of a “design effectiveness mark” to recognise public purchasers who use design management effectively to reduce production and lifetime costs.

The mark would be like a charter mark, explains SMF research officer Marc Shaw, “and would give people the possibility to emulate [that design effectiveness]”.

The Design Council supports the idea of training up Government buyers in design management, but is sceptical about the effectiveness of a mark. “The practicalities of carrying it out are more problematic,” says Design Council chief executive Andrew Summers.

The paper will be discussed at the SMF conference, Design Decisions: Effective Purchasing In The Public Sector, held on 20 May.

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