We wrote in part one about procurement innovation and the discussion at the Wales Procurement Week in Cardiff around the topic. As we said, public procurement is no longer simply concerned with purely cost or even conventional value for money. Many other “policy through procurement” goals, such as supporting small or local firms and sustainability are often now included in the assessment of suppliers and proposals.
One of those goals is to drive more “innovation procurement” – encouraging innovative firms and ideas that presumably will help the long-term economic growth of nations and the EU in total. In Wales itself, the SBRI (small business research initiative) has been encouraging contracting authorities to use innovation procurement in a number of ways, and that programme was presented at the Cardiff conference.
But the debate around innovation can all sound a little theoretical, so it was good to hear a practical case study from Robert Vaughan of Natural Resources Wales at the event, that really got down into the dirt, as it were, in more ways than one! Seeing how the innovation approach can really work in practice added considerably to the discussion.
Amongst other responsibilities, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) manages the rivers and reservoirs of that country. Wales has plenty of rain and therefore water, but it also has a huge number of farmed animals, which brings some problems for the organisation. That livestock, particularly sheep and cows, rather like water too. They like to drink it, they like to stand in it on a hot day, and they like to carry out other physical activities in it too! And these activities are not good for the quality of the water that eventually is going to end up coming out of taps in Cardiff and Caerphilly, Aberystwyth and Aberdare.
A key issue therefore is how to keep livestock out of certain rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Fences are one answer, certainly, but traditional fences are expensive, mainly because they require a considerable amount of upkeep and maintenance and need replacing quite regularly. So NRW launched an “innovation procurement” competition, with a very broad specification – simply describing the problem, and asking the market to come up with ideas to address this problem. That was basically the brief put out to the market, and innovative suggestions were invited.
Vaughan described the three short-listed ideas that are being taken forward now into further trials, and it was interesting to see how different they are – which is what you want really from innovative procurement.
The first uses a technique that goes back to prehistoric days. Charring wood and creating a charcoal layer on the outer surface of the wood makes it more resistant to water. Do that to a fence post, and it will last longer before it needs replacing. So one supplier has come up with a carbon coating for the base of the posts, which imitates that natural burning effect, and should increase the lifespan and therefore reduce the cost of the fencing option.
Another idea focusing also on the fence post has come up with a “hybrid protective fence post,” th