Councils Encouraged to Embrace Innovation in Procurement

July 23, 2013

Alan Holland

I attended an excellent event in Cambridge yesterday entitled; Procurement and Commissioning Master Class.

It was hosted by Eddie Gibson (East of England LGA/ SOPO National Executive), and chaired by Cllr Tony Jackson, (East of England LGA, and Leader, East Hertfordshire District Council).

Speakers included; Ken Cole (Associate, East of England, LGA), Julie Collins (GPS), Al Collier (Head of Procurement, Norfolk County Council), Paul Smith (YPO), Eddie Gibson (East of England LGA/ SOPO National Executive) and Colin Cram (Marc1Ltd).

Colin Cram kicked off the day, presenting an upbeat keynote on ‘The Art of the Possible’ where he talked about the significant changes councils needed to embrace so as to adapt to the new economy.

“Procurement is getting tough. It’s no longer about buying stationery.”

He talked about the need for more consistent specifications and cited the example where one UK authority had over a hundred specifications for tarmac, and that examples like this end up costing a significant amount of money. He went on to describe the fact that every council has to have ‘it’s own waste collection system’ as simply ‘bonkers’.

Colin went on to describe how tendering was essentially discriminatory to SME’s as they simply did not have the time and expertise to participate effectively. When the ‘costs to bid’ are factored in, and the fact they will only win 1 out of X, participation simply does not make economic sense, he concluded.

He finished his keynote, with his vision for a long term world class capability and a restatement of his belief that the best ways the public sector can save money is by being innovative and by doing things differently.

Al Collier, from Norfolk County Council, talked about the need for closer relationships with suppliers arguing that it can’t be simply ‘transactional’. He also described some of the innovative changes they were making at Norfolk, including; publishing all its tender opportunities and consultations on a dedicated Twitter feed , breaking large contracts down into smaller lots, so that smaller suppliers can bid, and holding a supplier open day before each significant contract is tendered so that suppliers can feed in their ideas.

Again he urged delegates to take more risks, to challenge accepted wisdom and to reduce the demands on SME’s by being innovative and creative i.e. revisiting insurance obligations and reducing the dependence / eliminating the use of pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQ’s) where possible.

Having seen Al in action it is little wonder Norfolk County Council won the ‘top council to do business with’ award, earlier this year.

Ken Cole of SPS Consultancy, focused on ‘the power of people in procurement transformation’. Ken commenced his talk by illustrating how difficult things were going to get with further cuts, while echoing earlier comments re the pace of change and the importance of councils operating differently. Again he stressed the need to take more calculated risks and to demand ‘more for less’. He encouraged procurement managers to push back and to negotiate so they could elicit greater savings.

Julie Collins of GPS, picked up on Ken’s theme of needing to do things differently and described how they are embracing lean principles and lean procurement. She also talked about the importance of strategic alliances, with other buying organizations so purchasing volumes could be combined to drive improved aggregations, savings and efficiencies across the whole of the public sector.

Again she echoed the concerns of many in terms of SME access as she described how 51% of suppliers on GPS frameworks are SME’s but that they have only secured 11% of the business.

In summary, delegates were unanimous in their views that the world is continuing to change profoundly and that the old ways are no longer fit for purpose. Delegates were encouraged to take more risks, to embrace innovation and to look to new ways of doing things. All of which was of course good news for an innovative procurement software player like Keelvar given we seek to elicit savings by encouraging public sector bodies to procure more smartly and more efficiently.

Alan Gleeson is the Head of Sales and Marketing at Keelvar. Image Source: (Flickr - John O'Nolan)

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