Good Practice
Public Procurement Developments – What Did We Learn From the GO Awards?

Last week saw the National Government Opportunities (GO) Excellence in Public Procurement Awards 2015/16 Awards held in Manchester. It is largely an event for UK organisations, mainly procurement teams from contracting authorities, although some of the 12 categories are open to suppliers too. (Our picture, courtesy of GO, shows the Skills Development Scotland team, winners of the Leadership award).

We will be featuring some of the most interesting entries on our Spend Matters UK/Europe website, but we thought it would be interesting for a pan-European audience to highlight what seem to be some of the major trends or useful learning that comes out of the awards. (I was on the judging panel, so I got to read about half of the 120 plus entries for the various categories).

It is hard to know whether the lack of entries from central government is significant, but it may well be that the major centralisation initiative in that sector over the last 3 years has meant a dramatic reduction in resource at individual organisational level. That may also be having an effect on the ability of procurement teams to show real innovation and performance improvement. With a few exceptions, most of the more interesting entries came for local government and health sectors.

Those sectors have also of course been under great cost pressure. But in some cases, that seems to be leading to more innovative procurement activities and solutions. A good example of that was Nexus, the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive. (That is the North-East of England, my original home).

Their contract for transport for disabled people turned what was previously a very standard contract, with the contracting authority paying the taxi firms fees for work carried out, into an innovative “franchise” agreement, whereby the successful firms actually were able to leverage their success into wider business. The concept of turning a cost into a neutral or even revenue earning possibility is, we suspect, something that will become a more common theme as public bodies continue to operate under price pressures.

Another theme, very evident in the health sector, was the need for procurement to engage with stakeholders carefully and positively in order to achieve change and performance improvement. In the health sector, the key stakeholder group is often the clinicians. What is clear from the successful entries in that sector, and indeed others, is that procurement being able to produce hard evidence, data and information are key to persuade clinicians (or indeed other stakeholders) to change their habits.

In one case, the prize-winning team (NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership – Procurement Services) actually went further in terms of assessing the quality of the products than any clinician had previously done. It was procurement who actually established whether the different products had real medical benefit (and in some cases, the answer was “no”). Those findings then helped influence the clinicians and had a real effect on the market too, making suppliers look hard at their own products and approaches. Achieving better value and better clinical outcomes is the prize here.

We also saw a number of excellent entries that showed successful involvement of third sector enterprises – charities and social enterprises – in the delivery of public services. In some cases, like the Coram Foundation running adoption services in the county of Kent, the organisation is delivering the service. In others, such as the work of the Scottish NHSS National Procurement team in partnership with Haven PTS and Dimensions UK Ltd  (who employ disabled people in their factories), the procurement success has been to identify where in the overall supply chain a social enterprise can add value, even if they are not the ‘prime contractor’.

Another observation, which has a positive and a negative side, is that many organisations are still in the “transformation” phase in terms of their procurement journey. It is good that they are moving in the right direction. But some of the judges felt quite a lot of entries were taking the right steps – but steps that we might have expected organisations to have taken 10 or ever 20 years ago. That shows the wide range of procurement maturity and performance we still see in the public sector – and we suspect that is true all around Europe. (It is also true in the private sector where the gap between best and worst is arguably even greater than in the private!)

So there are some general observations. We will feature case studies from some of the interesting entries on our sister website Spend Matters UK/Europe over the next few weeks, and we will cross-refer here so readers can see what we’re talking about. And well done again to all the shortlisted entries and to the organisers of the very successful event.