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15 key attributes of effective contemporary public procurement

Tuesday December 2nd, 2014

I am delighted to have been invited to be a judge for the National Government Opportunities (GO) Excellence in Public Procurement Awards 2015/16. Having judged these awards in previous years I know that there is some remarkable procurement policy and practice across the public sector. Unfortunately, I also know that there is some very mediocre and even some lamentable practice still in too many organisations. Every public body should aspire to be an excellent procurer of goods and services.

This requires not only excellent procurement executives but also a strong strategic commitment from political and senior executive leaders. Good practice and continuous commitment has to be firmly established in the DNA of the organisation and its leaders and practitioners.

John Tizard

John Tizard

Being invited to judge the National GO Awards 2015/16 gave me reason to consider what excellent procurement in a period of austerity and cuts might look like. The timing of the invitation also provides an opportunity to consider what my New Year resolutions would be in respect of public procurement and public sector procurement teams.

In my opinion there are 15 core attributes and approaches which are essential for contemporary public procurement to be effective:

  • a strategic approach to procurement with the procurement team making a contribution to the strategic leadership of their organisation
  • procurement practice securing the wider policy goals of the organisation
  • a procurement team ready to challenge internally and to challenge providers to ensure that these strategic goals are met and that complacency and orthodoxy do not reign – the ability to say ‘no’ is vital
  • senior leaders, including politicians and chief executives, who understand procurement’s strategic contribution and value its potential contribution
  • a clear distinction between commissioning and procurement is made and respected with a recognition that procurement is but one of many ways in which to implement some commissioning decisions and achieve desired outcomes
  • a recognition that procurement should only be used when it can add social value
  • a laser-like focus on outcomes including social, economic and environmental outcomes – the full realisation of the spirit as well as the letter of the Social Value Act – with a long-term view, not one driven by the expedient pursuit of cost and price reduction
  • contracts which value staff and ensure exemplar employment practices including good terms and conditions, the Living Wage as a minimum requirement, appropriate pension provision, training and development, employee and trade union engagement and involvement, etc
  • the encouragement of innovation and user responsiveness from suppliers and providers; and an innovative and learning culture within the procurement team and its organisation
  • a comprehensive knowledge of and relationships with potential providers to understand what they might offer and on what terms; and an appreciation of market conditions
  • an inclusive approach which enables and does not deter or bar social enterprises, voluntary and community organisations and SMEs, including new entrants, to bid and participate in supplying good and services to the public sector
  • transparency and accountability – with the business case for major outsourcing procurement to be published and consulted on in advance of issuing any notice or invitation to tender; publication of all contracts and performance for significant contracts; placing disclosure requirements on providers in respect of ownership, remuneration policy and tax policy and practice; and more
  • effective commercial acumen including skills in risk identification, allocation and management; good pricing; the deployment of effective incentives; excellent contracting and contract management (which involves policy and technical professionals) and service users
  • an appetite to explore and horizon scan for as well as developing both new service delivery models and contracting arrangements
  • the promotion and use of collaboration and partnership rather more than competition, especially across the public sector and with the voluntary and community sector

I very much hope that when I am judging the 2015/16 National GO Public Procurement Awards in the New Year I will be inundated with entries from all parts of the public sector that abound in these attributes and approaches; and ones that I have not thought of!

Furthermore, I very much hope that the public procurement profession more generally will demonstrate that it has risen to the public sector’s contemporary challenges. The public sector and the public require it to do so. Public procurement and public procurement officials have to add value or they have no value.


John Tizard
Twitter: @johntizard
Linked In: John Tizard

Gov Opps’ training partner, PASS (Procurement Advice & Support Service) runs training events for both the public and private sector. These include an Introduction to Public Procurement, Writing a Tender Specification, Preparing Perfect Tenders and Impact of the EU Directive on the UK Regulations. Click here for more info.

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