Two words. Public procurement.
While eyes glaze over for some when the words public procurement are uttered – for citizens and companies interacting with government – it is widely agreed that public procurement can be fraught with inefficiency, waste and perhaps even widespread fraud in government.
This is not just an Ontario phenomenon.
Public procurement refers to the purchases by government ministries, agencies and enterprises of just about everything – and it’s a substantial amount of Ontario’s hard-earned tax dollars at work. We buy things like uniforms for our first responders, pencils and notebooks for our public service and more importantly as we move to a more digital world: technology.
It’s a process in which government assesses the needs, decides what to buy and then procures the contract for the goods or service.
Sounds simple right? Wrong.
Here is one problem we should be concerned about in Ontario: It’s the wild west and every single entity in government does it differently.
When you think about how you buy things at home, the solution sounds simple. Buy in bulk and get a better price. So why on earth wouldn’t the government do the same thing?
The Ford government recently took the unprecedented step to focus on their uphill battle to bring Ontario’s ballooning deficit to a halt – they are centralizing public procurement in Ontario.
One entity. Consolidated orders. Economies of scale and the ability to check for discrepancies in one place.
This is a win for taxpayers.
The government says that $1 Billion dollars in savings can be found by simply leveraging its purchasing power to buy in bulk. That is a billion with a “B”.
But here is the bigger problem and one that can only be dealt with once we get a handle on a longer-term centralized solution:
Public procurement in Ontario is slow, complex and obsessively fixated on up-front costs. The bigger problem is that the whole system is predicated on assuming you already have a workable solution to your problem or that you know exactly what you need– and when you think you have all the answers – you’re bound to be left behind.
In an increasingly digital world where I might want to renew my driver’s licence online without a visit to the good ol’ government or filing for a birth certificate without the need for a feathered plum and long scroll – I expect those solutions are in the works by our government. Instead, I leave a voicemail on a machine no one actually checks or worse, I’m asked to kindly fax relevant documents to a number I hope is attached to a human being checking on my inordinately long file number.
Wait, what? Who has a fax machine?
For a government that promised a modernized approach, a new era of better technology and better customer service, up front costs for what we might need only scratches the surface. Presumably the government is going to want to understand how a new modernized system should grow, how to service it and how to always improve it so that dealing with government isn’t the most painful chore imaginable.
Public procurement is broken, and the Ford government is finally taking real steps to modernize our outdated, disjointed and inefficient system.
That billion dollars is a good start to getting this province back in the black after years of waste and mismanagement of our hard-earned tax dollars.
Melissa Lantsman is Vice President, Public Affairs at H&K Strategies in Toronto.