All posts by Eddie Gibson

A New DNA for Public Sector Commercial Activity

DNA is the material that identifies a living thing and determines how it looks or functions. But can it ever be altered?

A new DNA for public sector commercial activity

Thanks to the East of England Local Government Association for permission to republish this article. Procurement lead for the East of England Local Government Association Eddie Gibson talks through plans for “a complete reversal of the commercial DNA in the public sector” and looks at ways in which this can be achieved.

When Cambridge biologists Watson and Crick unravelled the double helix structure of DNA in 1953 their research was labelled groundbreaking.

But even though the discovery would go on to shape genetics, forensics and the medical, legal and scientific professions, nobody could have imagined back then how great an impact this tiny molecule would have on our everyday language.

These days successful sports teams have “winning DNA”. Musicians perform because it’s “in their DNA”. Even actors want to get “inside the DNA” of the characters they portray.

In March 2014, when Sally Collier, Chief Executive of Crown Commercial Service (CCS), announced that the new EU Public Contracts Regulations would require “a complete reversal of the commercial DNA in the public sector”, it seemed that Watson and Crick’s great discovery had even wormed its way into the sometimes impenetrable language of public contracting and procurement.

But what did she mean? And could the DNA of anything really be given a makeover?

Shaking up the system

Collier stressed the need to “fundamentally change the shape of the commercial landscape in central government.”

And those who attended the first round of CCS training on the new regulations during Summer 2014 were given a good indication about how this could be achieved.
The session opened with a slide representing the “new DNA”.

It showed a public sector placing far greater effort and resources into pre-tender activities (identifying needs, market research, supplier engagement) and into post-tender activities (contract management, continuous improvement, negotiation), instead of focusing large amounts of attention on the actual process of “The Tender” itself.

What happens next?

The UK Public Sector has been living in the brave, new world of Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (PCR2015) since 1st April 2015.

And critics would say that the profession’s somewhat predictable reaction to PCR2015 has been to obsess about the disruptions to process.

This included the additional requirement to advertise contract opportunities on “Contracts Finder”, the abolition of the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) for procurements below the EU tender threshold and the need to adopt the government standard PQQ for those tenders above threshold not using the Open procedure.

Martin Reeves, the Chief Executive of Coventry City Council and National Procurement Champion for Local Government, told the Society of Procurement Officers National Conference in February 2015 that, although the procurement profession had an excellent reputation for compliance, procurers needed to be innovative, risk-taking, adventurous and even disruptive.

And, with local government procurement spend estimated to be about £57 billion, he argued that the profession should prepare to behave differently in future – a message which backs the DNA changes Collier is striving for.

It also underpins a lot of the thinking stated in the Local Government National Procurement Strategy, published by the LGA in July 2014, the four key strands of which were: Making Savings, Supporting Local Economies, Demonstrating Leadership and Modernising Procurement.

Changing the game

So how do local government procurers need to change and what skills do they need to make best use of?

Well firstly, I think the profession needs to be bolder.

If we can see opportunities or scope for improvement, whether in the specification or contract management stages, then we need to be braver in pursuit of these.
Procurement professionals are often the most commercially qualified officers in a local authority and they need to demonstrate repeatedly where they can add value through the best use of this commercial capability.

Secondly, there needs to be a recognition and maximisation of the use of relevant expertise where it exists.

Too often in the past, the profession has had a reputation for fragmentation and internal disagreement.

With limited and shrinking resources available, there needs to be a collective recognition that focused expertise acting on behalf of the many will give a better result than being isolated and acting independently.

Following on from that, the profession needs to be much more open with each other to promote beneficial sharing and collaboration.

There is still a limited amount of commercial intelligence shared between organisations and we are generally not good at celebrating and sharing our procurement and contracting success stories.

Putting it into practice

The National Advisory Group for Local Government Procurement, convened and run by the LGA, is working hard to tackle some of these issues.

It has been developing national category strategies in key areas of spend, having a “national conversation” at the highest level with some of the key suppliers to local government and through collation and sharing of best practice on the LG procurement web-site – http://www.local.gov.uk/web/lg-procurement/home

At a regional level, the East of England LGA supports a network of procurement professionals and brings them together on an annual basis for a Master Class event to showcase some of the best and latest thinking across the procurement community.

This year, we are working with a number of key partners, including Crown Commercial Services, the International Association for Commercial and Contract Management and Procurious.com.

All these organisations have something to offer procurement professionals looking to develop their skills.

And what’s more, with their help, we really could see a new DNA for the sector emerge.

Eddie Gibson is a Senior Manager at the East of England LGA and the regional representative on the National Advisory Group for Local Government Procurement.  Get in touch with him at [email protected]k.

The regional Master Class will take place on 16 October in association with Procurious.