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John Tizard: Summer reflections can make for a better future

Monday July 23rd, 2018

As the summer holidays are upon us, many public sector leaders and procurement officials will hopefully be taking time to gain some rest and recharge their batteries for what it is likely to be a challenging autumn and winter. I wish you well on your chosen breaks and I also hope that those unable to take time off this summer can do so before too long. We all need such breaks, especially in stressful and turbulent times.

John Tizard

Apart from time with family and friends and rest from work, one of the benefits of the holiday season is to take time to reflect.

I would hope that procurement officials and their senior leadership colleagues will take the opportunity to reflect on a few critical issues.  There are complex and deeply worrying matters to think about including: the consequences of Brexit, especially if the UK crashes out of the EU without membership of the Customs Union and the Single Market; the impact of the continuation of austerity and further cuts; rising demand for services; and much more.

Of course, if you wish to have anything like a half-decent holiday, it will be totally understandable if you decide to ‘park’ all these matters to preserve your sanity.

Still, for those who, like myself, tend to use your summer break as ‘pondering time’, let me raise some other issues/questions that will likely need some careful attention.

  • how can colleagues, politicians and others be persuaded that we cannot continually drive down price when we procure public services and not expect increased risk of failure, poorer employment standards and lower quality of service?
  • how can we drive Social Value and public value if we are expected to buy goods and services at lowest price?
  • how can we ensure that we and our organisations are not conflating commissioning with procurement? And/or are these terms now so miss-used and abused that we need a new vocabulary?
  • how can we calculate the true cost of outsourcing including the transactional and long term contract management costs, the costs to the local economy and other parts of the public sector if jobs are lost or transferred and/or staff are employed on poorer terms and conditions? And how can we persuade decision makers (both political and executive) to take these into account when considering whether to outsource or not?
  • how might we best review all our existing outsourcing contracts to test for public value with a view to renegotiating or even terminating them, and calculating the social and financial cost benefit of so doing?
  • how might we share data and information on outsourcing, contractors and their performance across the public sector to strengthen the public sector’s ability to contract well and to manage contracts effectively?
  • what commercial skills are required in our organisations and how might these be best secured?
  • how can we develop and deploy the models of community wealth building that Preston Council and others are successfully applying to build both local social capital and economic resilience?
  • how can we move away from competitive tendering and resultant complex constraining contracts when we fund the local voluntary and community sector to deliver public services and/or strengthen communities and speak up for their communities? How can we replace such tendering with relational partnerships underpinned by grant aid? And perhaps most challengingly, persuade senior decision makers that this is both possible and desirable?
  • how, with all these and so many other issues, can we switch off as we must to take the benefit of a break; and actually, when back in the office, how can we ensure that we carve out adequate time to think strategically rather than constantly fire fight?

In the autumn, after the holiday period, I will be returning to some or all of these questions through the medium of Government Opportunities. Meantime, I very much welcome thoughts/musings/suggestions for this agenda from readers.

I wish you a good (and above all, restful) summer.

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