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Can procurement officials be change agents?

Monday February 16th, 2015

Gov Opps’ training partner, PASS (Procurement Advice & Support Service) runs training events for both the public and private sector. These include The Impact of the new UK Public Contracts Regulations 2015, Introduction to Public Procurement, Writing a Tender Specification and Preparing Perfect Tenders. Click here for more info.

 

Recent conversations with procurement experts from across the public sector and some of their advisors has made me realise, perhaps belatedly, that the potential for a truly radical public procurement profession has to be more than nurtured – it has to be driven, and driven hard. We can no longer afford the default narrow price- and process-driven approach to public procurement. Simply put, this no longer serves the public sector and, more significantly, it is failing the public and the taxpayer.

John Tizard

John Tizard

Inevitably, procurement has to be rooted in some processes and procedures in order to ensure probity and compliance with regulations and legislation and to ensure that the public receives value for its money.

However, overly bureaucratic approaches and being overly subservient to rules (many of which were created decades ago and which do not reflect contemporary needs) is deeply unhelpful.
I acknowledge that there is much good practice across the public sector as evidenced by some of the entries for the Government Opportunities National Public Procurement Awards 2015/16 for which I had the honour to be a judge. However, the reality is that there remains far too much poor and outdated practice.

Public procurement is a means to an end. It is ‘not’ the principal role or duty of any public body unless that body was set up simply to procure.  Rather, it is about enabling public sector organisations to achieve their objectives and meet the needs and choices of their users and the wider community. It either contributes to the wider public agency’s strategic goals, or it has little relevance. Even in a time of austerity, public expenditure pressures and cuts, procurement has to rise above the default of ‘purchase of the cheapest’. And it has to be ready to challenge and push back against those who would wish it simply to buy cheaply.

Above all, public procurement professionals have to take the role of critical friend to their policy and operational colleagues, and to politicians too. They have to be able to say “no” and they have to be able to offer solutions. They should be ready to identify and explain the short- and long-term implications of actions they are requested and/or required to take.

This requires more emphasis on understanding service and goods markets, public policy and their own organisation’s values and strategic goals amd then creating solutions that align procurement practice with these values and goals (and of course the law).

Public procurement professionals can, potentially, be catalysts for change within their organisations and across the wider system – but this means: coming out from behind the standard procurement manual and being a creative and innovative force; being confident and having the evidence to challenge and argue for change of direction or policy practice; and ensuring that the organisation has a clear and agreed definition of public value as well as the means to measure this.

The profession can also extend its embrace of commercial skills in ways that underpin but do not undermine a public service ethos.

The next few years have the potential for being a period of renaissance for the public procurement profession – but only if the profession itself is brave and far-sighted enough to rise to the opportunity.

 

John Tizard
Online: www.johntizard.com
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 The Impact of the new UK Public Contracts Regulations 2015, Introduction to Public Procurement, Writing a Tender Specification and Preparing Perfect Tenders. Click here for more info.

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