Friday, 10 September 2010

"Competitive Neutrality"

I was speaking at a conference for the Office of Fair Trading on the changing shape of public commissioninig. My session was discussing the barriers to third sector in securing competitive neutrality.

I suggested that the term may be unhelpful. It implies an analy retentive approach by procurement officers and may inhibit wider considerations in commissioning.

Commissioners can and should actively seek out certain qualities in their services - eg services that reach the hard to help, services that people trust, services that bring added value elsewhere, services that increase civic participation etc. Which in practice means our sector. EU rules are not a problem with this, some people just think they are.

So the point is that 'competitive neutrality' has ceased to be useful, not because what it says is wrong, but because it makes people ignore the fact that they can do the above. It makes them 'neutral' in a lazy or anally retentive sense (not talking to providers etc) rather than in the way it was intended.

Maybe what we need is 'competitive active neutrality'? Still competitive, still neutral on sectors, but more active in seeking out the best the market has to offer and more active in talking to providers?

Following my usual practice , on my way to the OFT I popped into St Bride's Church on Fleet St. It's the Printers Church and its well known tower is a model for wedding cakes!

And again , like St George's in Bermondsey, a salutary reminder of the Blitz. 70 years ago, in a massive German attack on the City, 9 churches, including St Brides and the Guildhall were bombed out. Only great heroism of the firewatchers at St Pauls saved our marvellous London Cathedral. But in the case of St Bride's it had one unusual effect. The bombs destroyed the interior but revealed the lost crypt which was built on the old Roman roads and pavements of London.

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