Last Friday saw the Public Procurement Early Career Researcher event at the Centre for Transnational Legal Studies in London (not the best picture ever, I admit!). Around 35 researchers and other interested parties came together to hear 11 presentations of generally “work in progress” research from a range of research students. All have an interest in various public procurement issues, often (but not always) coming at it from a legal and regulatory perspective.
The day was organised by Dr Pedro Telles of Swansea University, well known to our readers for his Public Procurement Podcast series, who deserves credit not only for a very good day, but for managing to play such a key role just days after his wife gave birth (early)! Many congratulations to the Telles family.
The event was supported by the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences through their British Academy Rising Star Engagement Awards – that initiative has also supported that public procurement podcast series, featured extensively here.
The spread of countries represented was impressive too; Scandinavia was well represented with several Finns and Danes involved, but there were also folk from Italy, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and probably more we did not pick up on. As well as the speakers, there were other academics participating (including our friends Gary Clifford, Ama Eyo and Dermot Cahill from Bangor, Albert Sanchez-Graells, now at Bristol University and Roberto Caranta from Milan), a handful of public procurement lawyers, and a few oddities such as me.
After each 15-minute presentation from the researcher, a senior academic or two gave a critique to the presenters. The style of that was very direct, bordering on the brutal at times! But it was always constructive, giving good advice to the researchers in terms of not just their presentation but their topic, methodology, and opportunities – for example, others with whom they might wish to collaborate. I would add one suggestion, applicable to several presenters – don’t use tiny font sizes on PowerPoint presentations you are going to give to a good sized room!
Anyway, we will be back to feature some of the sessions in more detail over the next couple of weeks. The new(ish) EU procurement directives, and their interpretation and transposition into national law not surprisingly formed a major part of the day. The theme of what happens when contracts go wrong was very central, with much talk of termination issues, effectiveness, disbarment and self-cleaning.
We wondered whether perhaps the academic world is getting too obsessed with this – how often does the average Procurement Head in a contacting authority have to face such problems? But when they do arise, they are usually serious, and the directives are somewhat vague in this area, hence perhaps the interest. Indeed, an eminent QC (barrister) who was at the event also told me that there are more legal cases of this type than we might think – it is just that many never get to court, being settled between the parties before they get to that stage!
However, it wasn’t all about these issues by any means; the topics discussed across the day were surprisingly broad. For example, Jussi Pyykkonen, who works for the Finnish central government procurement group as well as his research activities, talked about a network analysis approach to determining how procurement and other stakeholder functions can best work together and organise themselves. That was typical of many of the presentations – definitely not a completed piece of work, but with enough there to raise interest and some lively debate. Other interesting topics included eProcurement, “nudging” in the procurement context, and social value in public procurement.
It was definitely a worthwhile event; well done to all the presenters, everyone involved in the organisation of the event (the staff from the Centre were absolutely charming, I should say) and most of all to Dr Telles and to the Academy for funding it. And as we say, more to come shortly here.