The news that Sir Philip Green has been appointed as the PM's efficiency tsar may have annoyed Vince Cable. But it could cause as much angst to Michael Gove and Andrew Lansley. For, Sir Philip has one big idea for efficiency, as he indicated on Today this morning: centralised procurement. This means that local management of schools, independent academies, foundation trusts and GP commissioning are all obstacles to what he would see as the way forward. He simply doesn't understand the point of such diversity in public services.
Of course, in schools, they used to have such central procurement before LMS. It was done by local authorities. It meant that if a headteacher needed to repair a broken window, they couldn't use the local glazier but had to turn to the council's approved provider. Some schools tied to PFI deals are already limited in this way. Of course, there are savings in stationery or computers to be made from procurement: most schools are part of large procurement consortia anyway for such purposes anyway. The difference is that they choose: those that aren't should be encouraged to join them. And I don't doubt a lot could be saved in central government through consolidation of functions and joint procurement, but ministers need to be careful that they don't allow Sir Philip's uber-centralising philosophy to strangle school and hospital independence in the red tape that comes with ostensibly more efficient centralised procurement.
This post also appears at Public Finance.