All posts by Euan Granger

Procurement – Are We Our Own Worst Enemies?

We spend so long looking outwards at the wider environment for our key issues. But are we missing the elephant in the room? Is Procurement actually one of Procurement’s worst enemies?

own worst enemies
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For anyone who has experience working in public sector procurement, the strictures of the rules and regulations are well known and often highly frustrating. So it would have come as a surprise to many when former UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced a plan that would ‘free the NHS’ from Government procurement rules.

Cue many cornflakes being choked upon around the UK upon hearing this news. And then numerous procurement professionals taking a very keen interest in where the story was going next. 

After all, if you were to speak to any procurement professional with experience of working in the public sector (and their client departments), you would probably get a fair picture pretty quickly of the key barrier, hindrance, ball and chain impacting their work. Administration, bureaucracy, paperwork, regulations – take your pick. Once you enter a public sector procurement process, it’ll be a while before you emerge out the other side. 

That’s not to say that these are bad things. The regulations help to bring openness, honesty and transparency to the process. They also make it fully auditable and able to be used as a shield against bad practice and spurious challenges. That said, there isn’t a single procurement professional who wouldn’t love to drop the regulations once in a while.

Who wouldn’t love a bit of extra ‘freedom’ to spend money in a more effective and efficient way. 

Worst Enemies – Self-Inflicted Pain 

Putting aside the UK and EU-wide regulations for a minute as an unavoidable consequence of public procurement (Prime Ministerial intervention pending…), we can turn a lens on the processes that procurement has set up for itself. Sure, the regulations are a pain, but they’re part and parcel of doing the job. What isn’t is the self-inflicted pain of all the additional administration that procurement loads on itself. 

Take a closer look at the processes in your organisation. Are they as lean as they can be? Do you have a set of toolkit documents that you can use for all your process? Or are you mired in repetitive documents that are all required, but aren’t adding any value to the process? 

This additional burden not only extends an already lengthy process, but also curtails the valuable time of your procurement professionals. Want a happy procurement team? Then it’s value and management, not process and admin. 

In previous articles, I’ve outlined both the importance of time management, but also the use of collaborative frameworks and other procurement routes that can be used to help use this precious time more effectively. What is more problematic, however, are the timescales attached to the procurement process that is specific to the individual organisation. 

Tender regulations aside, we’re talking about the additional time procurement builds into its own process that is potentially avoidable. Think internal approval processes, report writing and flurries of emails that could be taken care of with a short conversation or a really good document storage system. 

Strategies and Stakeholders 

Beyond this is a perceived acceptance by procurement of being strung along by Client department and stakeholders. Not just in taking on additional tasks for these groups, but not being strong enough to push back when things clearly aren’t progressing.

This is not an open invitation to undermine stakeholder relationships or burn bridges. But make it clear that a single stakeholder’s requirements are not the only thing that a Procurement Officer is working on, let alone responsible for. 

By having this bit of extra support for pushing back on project teams that are dragging their feet with important information or documents, and moving on to other projects that are set to go. Send someone to the back of the queue when they’re not ready more than once and they’ll get the message.

Finally, it’s worth considering how procurement chooses to set itself up strategically. Strategic structuring such as Category Management or embedding in project teams all have their pros and cons (enough for another article entirely). But stick too rigidly to any structure and it can cause issues. From imbalances in work levels across a department, to pigeon-holing your team members into one area or commodity, they’re all things that need to be considered on an on-going basis, not just once every 2-3 years. 

Adapt and Survive 

Not to get too Darwinian, but if procurement continues down some of these paths, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that we could see the profession as we know it cease to be. Market environments, technology and even organisations continue to grow and adapt organically. So why does procurement keep tripping itself up with rigid structures and tying itself up in bureaucracy and red tape? 

While I don’t advocate a ‘free-for-all’ approach to procurement, or believe that fully unstructured departments can work effectively all the time, there are changes that could be made to aid the survival of procurement in the long term. 

As a hero of mine once said, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Quit being part of the problem.” 

Let’s stop ignoring the elephant in the room and take a long, hard look at ourselves. Procurement has enough challenges to contend with without adding more on itself. It’s where platforms such as Procurious are such a valuable tool. By talking our problems out, we can find collective solutions to the benefit of everyone. I, for one, am trying to do better and I’d love to work with you all to do more. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and others on the challenges facing public sector procurement. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

Building Bridges (Literally) – The Best of Procurement

Challenges and failures are all very well, but procurement only gets to develop if we talk about our wins. And we can all win if we learn from the best. 

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The Queensferry Crossing is a magnificent structure and feat of design and engineering. At 1.7 miles (2.7km) long, the bridge is the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world. The project features innovative design and forms part of a huge, 13.7 mile (22km) upgrade in infrastructure, including intelligent transport systems and emission reducing technology.

With a project budget of between £1.7-2.3 billion at the pre-tender stage for the Forth Replacement Crossing (including the Queensferry Crossing Bridge and the surrounding infrastructure works), it’s no surprise that procurement was at the heart of the success of the project. Without great procurement and strong contract management, there is little chance that this would have been delivered in the manner it was, and provided the savings it did too. The procurement process itself delivered significant savings resulting in a reduced estimated budget of £1.45-1.6 billion.

An Audit Scotland report into the project undertaken in 2017 determined that the project had indeed delivered value for money, not surprising given that at a total spend of £1.34 billion, it provided an 8-16 per cent saving on the budget at the start of construction.

A number of strategies used by Transport Scotland for the project proved to be highly successful in the procurement exercise, such as the use of an extensive panel of KPIs, as well as allowing bidding consortia the freedom to suggest changes to designs that could potentially deliver savings and benefits.

The quality of the procurement was recognised in 2018 when Transport Scotland won the GO Infrastructure Project of the Year Award and the GO Excellence Scotland Award 2018/19 for the Forth Replacement (Queensferry) Crossing project at the 2018 GO Awards. There was further success for the project at the National GO2019 Awards in Birmingham, where it was awarded the GO Infrastructure Project of the Year.

In order to understand more about just what exactly made the procurement on this project such a success, I spoke to Lawrence Shackman, Project Manager for the Queensferry Crossing and Head of Rail Projects and Technical Services at Transport Scotland. So if you’re looking to learn from the best, now’s the time to pay attention!

What made the procurement exercise such a success to deliver the outcomes it did?

There were many good aspects to the exercise to make it a success. In particular, using the Competitive Dialogue method, which ensured we were able to engage fully with the tenderers in explaining the scope of the project, the reasoning behind the specimen design and the build process, their design and construction proposals and many other which helped to de-risk the project.

This also included supplying the tenderers with full project information, including ground investigation data and specimen designs to give examples of how the bridge, roads and associated infrastructure may be designed to satisfy the requirements.

What was the biggest challenge with the procurement and how did you overcome it?

There was a major risk that we would only be left with one bidder for the Principal Contract, as only two consortia tendered. We overcame the risk by using a Participation Agreement, signed by both tenderers, which guaranteed two things: 1 – that if Scottish Ministers did not proceed with the award of the Principal Contract, the tenderers would be reimbursed with their tender costs up to a value of £10 million; and 2 – if the contract was awarded, then the unsuccessful tenderer would be reimbursed half of their costs, up to a maximum value of £5 million.

This Agreement effectively helped to ensure that the competition remained through to submission of tenders, helping to minimise the risk of us only receiving one bid. That would have required significant additional time to verify that it represented value for money.

What lessons did you learn for future projects?

There are so many that it would be impossible to detail them all here! We intend to publish a Lessons Learned Report in the next couple of months.

If this article publishes after the publication of the report, I will link to it here.

Do you have any advice for other public sector procurement professionals working on tenders or projects to learn from your success?

Again, there are so many lessons we would share, as I have already done with other procurement professionals. Without going into too much detail, you need to ensure that you have good governance, good stakeholder engagement, technical competence, a realistic programme and cost estimating, plus robust risk management. A solid, consistent team is also essential to guide and manage the process.

Apply the Lessons

There won’t be many procurement professionals who have the opportunity to work on a project such as this, but that doesn’t mean to say that the lessons learned here are applicable across the entire profession.

Robust specifications, good stakeholder engagement, good governance and realistic programmes apply to big and small projects alike, and there is always the opportunity to look for more innovative methods to help with risk management or complex tenders.

So let’s focus on the positives, follow the path laid out for us by other professionals who have delivered successful, high-profile projects such as the Queensferry Crossing, learn from them and see what we can do in our own organisations. Remember – there is always someone to learn from who has been there, seen it, done it, so who not learn from them before we start.

Why Knowing your Market Can be the Key to Success

Are you dooming yourself to failure in procurement by not knowing your market before you start? Market research and analysis is a key component of the procurement process – but it needs to be done right.

By PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/ Shutterstock

When Martin Luther King Junior stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in front of 250,000 civil rights supporters, he knew his audience. He knew that the people he was addressing supported his cause and agreed with his words. The speech was a success and helped paved the way for President John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act.

This is not intended to be a crass use of what is one of the finest speeches in global history, but an example of how success can be tied to knowing how an audience will react to words, proposals and actions. 

Conversely, not taking the time to understand the audience or the market can lead to painful rejection (though in fairness, sometimes the failure to understand the market lies on the other side of the table). Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were rejected by Atari and HP in when they presented the concept of the personal computer. Perhaps just as famously, record label Decca rejected The Beatles stating that “guitar groups were on their way out”. 

Both of these cases, and many more, are a prime example of organisations not understanding their market and ending up without that all important ‘win’ in the column.

Criticality of Analysis 

You’re probably wondering how this relates to public procurement. The examples here show how critical it is to know your audience and market, and that the key is that hard work needs to be put in to provide the foundation for success. 

Take a look back at your own career in procurement. How many times have you gone to market on the back of flawed or non-existent market research and analysis? When you have laid your hands on the final draft of a specification, did you always trust that the input was from a good cross-section of the market? 

You may think you lack the time or resources to carry out market analysis as part of your tender process, but the business case for doing it well is there for all to see. Market research can be critical in ensuring that the goods, services or works being procured meet the needs of the taxpayers, at a cost that is acceptable and provides best value. 

Public sector organisations can use market research and analysis to get a greater understanding of their customers (usually the end-users of the services), to analyse the market and the competition in a particular area, and then to test before launching services.

Informed Decision Making

The same applies in procurement, just from a different angle. Procurement gets to understand the supply market, its competitiveness, how mature it is and the key suppliers, some of whom may already be supplying to the public sector.

It creates a level of informed decision-making, rather than approaching every tender in the same way. As it’s put in the Procurement Journey, analysis of key trends and market dynamics and how the goods or services in question sit within this can help to shape a specification, tender and route to market. 

It can also help procurement to understand the role of SMEs in the market and how they could better set out a tender to increase SME involvement. Even down to using market analysis in order to understand how commercial models can be set up and what Community Benefits suppliers would or could offer as part of tender submissions. 

Market Research Favourites

There are a variety of methods available to procurement too, some which are desktop based, others which require direct interaction with the market itself.

A few of the most common are listed below:

  • Prior Information Notice (PIN) – The PIN can be used to gather information on almost any aspect of a tender and allows procurement to understand and gauge the interest in the supply market. The added benefit is that, depending on the type of PIN used, they can also be used as a call for competition and reduce procurement timescales. 
  • Soft Market Engagement – This doesn’t have the formality of a PIN, but can be just as useful. It can be done via email or phone calls and is particularly useful if there is a smaller, known supply market, and the engagement is being done to test the water on a specification or aspect of the Technical or Commercial Evaluation.
  • SWOT, PESTLE, Kraljic – Old favourites for anyone who has ever done courses in procurement! These can provide a picture on the suppliers (SWOT), market conditions (PESTLE) and product category (Kraljic), better informing decision-making and strategy.
  • Applied Analytics – The likes of Dun & Bradstreet and Spikes Cavell provide information on the supply market, from spend analytics to market analysis. All of this data is presented in a usable form, saving procurement from having to carry this out themselves. 

Paralysis by Analysis 

While market analysis is a critical part of the procurement process, it’s important to remember that it’s only one part of a much wider whole. Perfection is the enemy of progress – striving to capture all the information possible, to speak to every supplier and put this all together can lead to stagnation in the process and actively hinder decision making. 

Avoid decision-making by committee at all costs and decide where you, as procurement, will draw a line under the analysis and move to the next stage. Mark this out at the start of the process and stick to the timelines. After all, you don’t want to spend so long analysing the market that you never actually go to market. 

Know your audience, pick your method and crack on! 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

The Best Procurement – Not Spending Money?

When it comes to getting the most out of your budgets, it’s not enough to just minimise your spend any more. The best approach may actually be trying not to spend any money at all – an anachronism to any procurement professional.

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It was the great philosopher, Ronan Keating, who once sang of procurement, “You spend it best, when you spend nothing at all…”. This may be a gross exaggeration (sorry, Ronan!) but even if the words aren’t necessarily true, the sentiment is. Particularly for procurement professionals in the current age. 

We’ve talked ad nauseam about the ‘B’ word (no, not Brexit, the other one), about the issue of budgets (or lack thereof) in the public sector. Not only are budgets shrinking, but for many public bodies it’s become a matter of prioritisation of spending, which is opening up a whole new can of worms. 

In Scotland between 2013-14 and 2017-18, revenue funding from the Scottish Government for Councils fell by 7.1%, compared to the overall decrease of 1.8% for the Scottish Government itself. Surprisingly, for 2018-19, funding has actually increased by 0.3%. 

However, due to the nature of the services being delivered by many Local Authorities, there are still substantial budget holes to be filled. Maintaining, and improving, public services is only the start. In most cases it’s about delivering the same, and often a greater number of, services and all the new ‘one-off’ projects that are becoming prevalent, while managing the same, or smaller, budgets. 

In light of this, professionals have to invest wisely to help future savings targets. It becomes a matter of not only saving at the bottom line, but working hard to add value at the top line. 

Essentially what procurement is trying to do is to squeeze every penny – just maybe not like this…

Spend to Save 

So what are procurement doing in the short-term, or what could they be doing better? One thing that procurement might want to consider is the concept of spend to save. It might seem a bit backwards, but it’s a concept that can work. Let’s put this all in context with an example we will all recognise and be able to relate to. 

Unless you are working for the most progressive organisation in the world, you probably don’t have the latest IT hardware or software in your office. And, as much as you go on about day after day, you realise that this is unlikely to change in the near future. After all, the outlay on new IT equipment looks like a really expensive investment when looking at the bottom line figure. 

And who wants to be the Local Authority on the front page of the paper spending, say, £1 million on new IT when services are being cut, or Council tax is being increased? 

But consider the total cost implications. How much is being spent on maintaining legacy systems? Are browsers and software even supported anymore? And how much time are employees losing to logging in in the morning, programmes hanging or browsers not supporting key websites and applications? 

Consider the time it takes to complete a simple task like creating a spreadsheet, or uploading documents to a web-based portal. It’s hard to quantify how much time this takes over a day, but if this is a repetitive task then that time can start to add up. Lower productivity, lower efficiency and unhappy staff – all as a result of poor IT.

Then consider the efficiencies you could find with better hardware and software. You can give employees the option to work more flexibly and could potentially reduce the onward costs of contracts such as printing, annual maintenance and support services 

All of a sudden, that £1 million investment doesn’t seem so big any more… 

Don’t Spend…to Save 

But if making that outlay is a step too far for your organisation, then what you might need to do is to step all the way back to the beginning. After all, the best saving procurement can make is to not spend any money in the first place. Obvious and not exactly revolutionary, but still a solid strategy when it comes to spend management. 

How do we do it? It requires a strong will to say no and probably a fair amount of senior management buy-in and support. After all, you’ll be saying no to clients and end users and it’s nice to know that your managers and heads of department have your back if it’s taken above your head. 

What it boils down to is separating the wants from the needs, the nice to haves from the must haves. It’s a process procurement can lead on, but it needs support from all stakeholders to make it work. At the outset procurement can create and manage a User Intelligence Group (UIG) within the organisation, getting all the necessary people in the same room to thrash out the details and scope of requirements. 

This not only makes the process more efficient (and saves time and resources), but gives everyone an equal say, a chance to have their voice heard and, at very least, no chance to say they weren’t consulted! From this you can get your baseline specification and then engage with the market to assess the feasibility and see what goods or services are out there that could do the job for you. 

And finally, to link us all the way back to the beginning, you still have the power to not spend if you don’t think the solution is fit for purpose. Because if procurement are going to be the gatekeeper for the organisation’s spend, we should have the power to close the gate before the horse bolts once in a while. Don’t you think? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

What To Do When Stakeholder Management Gets Tough

Everyone has encountered difficult customers or stakeholders when running a procurement exercise. It’s how we choose to deal with them that can define success or failure for our tenders.

By zoff / Shutterstock

Recently I’ve been running a recruitment process at work, using the oft-derided and disliked ‘competency-based’ questions as part of the interviews. One question in particular got me thinking about my own experiences in procurement. That of dealing with a difficult stakeholder or customer relationship.

We’ve all had them, even if they didn’t necessarily feel like that at the time. Whether it’s the end user who keeps changing their mind about what they want, or the stakeholder who believes their opinion is more important than everyone else’s. And then there’s the supplier who believes they know better than you, that your process is flawed or you’re asking the wrong questions, and that they have the key to fixing it.

These aren’t necessarily difficult or challenging relationships all the time. Good stakeholder management encourages input from all sides, but there are times that opinions are unhelpful, unwelcome or downright wrong. And when this is the case, but the stakeholder remains convinced that they are correct, the relationship can prove to be make or break for the success of the exercise.

Path of Least Resistance

This brings me back to the original question that got me thinking in the first place. The question continues by looking for more detail on how the relationship was dealt with and what the outcome was. The aim of the question is to dig a little deeper into the competency of ‘influence’ and establish how the candidate managed the situation to a successful conclusion.

But as anyone who has encountered this issue in the past knows, success isn’t always a guarantee (more on this shortly). A good outcome may not necessarily be a bell-ringing, trumpeter-blowing success for the tender. Sometimes the best outcome is no outcome at all, a compromise, or a solution that follows the path of least resistance in order to preserve a much-needed relationship for the future.

And that is the tale that I want to tell now. Instead of focusing on the theory, I wanted to share a story from my own procurement experience where hard lessons were learned and gaining the realisation that not all relationships are destined to be easy.

Introducing: The Engineer

DISCLAIMER: The people in this story ARE actually real and any resemblance to anyone you know is because you have probably met someone just like this! I have, however, changed names and kept details deliberately vague to protect identities.

Picture this. A young graduate procurement trainee, a bit green, a bit wet behind the ears. New job, new suit, new city. Yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s me! If you’re picturing something similar to a parent’s photo of their children on their first day of school, that’s probably what I looked like to tell the truth.

I hadn’t been in procurement very long at all, having fallen into the profession while looking for graduate roles around the UK. It was all a bit new to me, but I’d delivered a couple of projects and was getting the hang of what was required. I’d started to build up a good foundation of knowledge and some solid, supportive relationships across the business.

That was until I met The Engineer. The Engineer had a reputation that preceded him – hard to pin down, hard to please, just generally hard to work with.

Colleagues more experienced than I (this is where the warning signs should have come in that I was getting the dubious please of this particular contract!) told stories of a nice guy, but someone with very little time for procurement and procurement/tender activities. The department was a roadblock, the processes too cumbersome. He knew plenty of guys who could provide the goods quicker and cheaper. That was, after all, “what we’ve always done around here”.

A Challenging Time

My experience wasn’t any different to what I expected after these friendly warnings. Meetings came and meetings went and the only thing that changed was the date on the calendar. The Engineer was respectful and professional at all times in his demeanour towards me, but he seemed determined to shred the procurement process.

Specifications were blocked as too vague, or not meeting the needs of the department. There were complaints about opening this up to suppliers who had been used in the past as it was felt their products were inferior. In hindsight there are plenty things I could have done differently – brought in more senior team members (I didn’t want to compound my newness by seeming like I couldn’t handle this), or change tact to put it on him to drive it forward. But, as they say, hindsight is always 20:20.

Eventually we reached an unspoken agreement and understanding that gave us a resolution of sorts. We both realised that nothing was going to change, either in the product demands or the procurement process. The contract was eventually put in place with a good supplier and the goods were delivered in good time. It wasn’t the utopic procurement outcome I had envisioned, but it wasn’t too bad. And boy, did I learn a lot!

An Interview-Worthy Response?

No matter what you do or where you go, you’ll find relationships like this to deal with. It’s ultimately how you deal with them that you need to decide on. Each relationship will be different and your response to them will differ in line with this. It’s important to remember that no matter how hard the relationship, it still needs to be worked at, possibly even harder for the particularly challenging ones.

They may not provide you with a gold-plated, interview-worthy example, but these interactions can help you further down the line and it all helps with your personal development. Just remember, no matter how hard it is, don’t burn those bridges. They may be the ones you need to cross in the future.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

Time to Tune into the Real Social Network

Procurement has not only great power, but also great responsibility to help drive social change. And embedding social value in tenders is only the start.

By STILLFX / Shutterstock



“No fundamental social change occurs merely because government acts. It’s because civil society, the conscience of a country, begins to rise up and demand – demand – demand change.”

Former Democratic Vice-President Joe Biden

Where does the real value of a contract lie for public sector organisations? Is it in achieving a low price for goods, services or works? Or in savings in the ongoing management of a contract? Could it be in maintaining critical services for vulnerable people? Perhaps in creating innovative solutions to issues that improve the lives of all citizens in a Local Authority, or wider, area?

The truth is that it is all of these things and more. Fundamentally, the delivery of services are the lifeblood of public sector organisations and the contracts, be they for goods, services or works, are the foundation of this. But where, in the past, there may have only been a focus on cost and quality, the expectations on and in procurement have changed markedly.

The change is shown in how procurement approach the nature of the total value of the contract. Not just the cost and quality, but what it actually delivers for wider society beyond the scope of requirements. Call it social value, call it social benefits, procurement are front and centre for organisations looking to embed this wider value into their contracts.

Fair Work and Community Benefits

The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 was introduced in order to ensure that public bodies consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of their local area. However, it won’t be until later this year that contracts placed by central Government in the UK will have a mandatory requirement for social value considerations.

And this is where part of the issue lies in putting social value considerations into procurement processes. This regulation was only suggested and introduced in response to the collapse of Carillion, with the aim of “restoring trust between government, industry and the public”. Up until this point, any social value considerations had only been a consideration, rather than a mandatory evaluation criteria.

All this means that there are a considerable number of procurement professionals in the UK who have never put social value into their tenders or contracts. Any new measure, as with anything else, will require extensive training for buyers at a time where resources are stretched thin and training budgets are nigh-on non-existent in many cases.

However, there are a number of public bodies, particularly north of the border, who are already doing this. In 2015, the Scottish Government unveiled new guidance on making Fair Work Practices in public procurement. This included considerations on the Real Living Wage and made it a requirement for procurement to consider this as an evaluation criteria for each tender they undertook.

Now, nearly all Scottish Local Authorities have Fair Work Practices as an evaluation criteria in all procurement exercises. At Glasgow City Council, for example, Fair Work Practices has a defined weighting of 5 per cent, alongside Community Benefits as either as an evaluated (weighted at 10 per cent) or non-evaluated criterion.

Benefits for ALL to See

For procurement, Community Benefits and Social Value come in two main guises – what we expect from our suppliers; and what we expect from our purchasing. If procurement truly wants its suppliers to get tuned into this social network, then they need to be leading from the front. This means not only mandating it in contracts, but also engaging with Social Enterprises and running social projects of our own.

Investment in Social Enterprise will help to grow an already thriving sector which employs around 5 per cent of the UK workforce and is worth £60 billion towards UK GDP. The Big Issue, The Co-Op, Jamie Oliver’s ‘15’ restaurant are among the most well-known of these organisations.

(On a personal recommendation, try ‘Street and Arrow’ in Glasgow or ‘Streat’ in Melbourne and you’ll be doing your bit to support social enterprise!)

Beyond this, there are great examples of how large organisations are taking steps further to support social enterprise and add social value to contract. Liverpool Victoria is building extensive work with social enterprise into all of its procurement processes and is encouraging its own suppliers to get involved too.

Time to Grow your Network

Now it’s time for you to get involved and to make sure that you join your fellow procurement professionals in changing the world, one tender at a time. There are a couple of easy steps you can take and you don’t need to start big to get things up and running.

First, search out all the information and guidance you can find on social value, social enterprises and embedding this in procurement processes. Then find out whether or not your organisation is evaluating Community Benefits or Fair Work Practices as part of their tenders. Is it a mandatory criterion? Do your stakeholders even know about it?! Look to see if there is scope to add this, even starting with it as part of a wider question.

Finally (for now at least) you can start to look at contracts that could be performed by a social enterprise. Common ones include office supplies, coffee and catering, but the full list is much longer than that. There’s even provisions in the Public Contracts Regulations (2015) for run tenders for supported businesses only, which could put you well on your way to making a real difference in procurement.

After all, it’s what we’re here to do!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!


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The Time Paradox of Contract Management

When you’re busy it’s easy to let things slide and ignore contract management in the procurement process. But the idea that you’re saving yourself time by doing so is a paradox we would be well-served dismissing.

By andrey_l /Shutterstock

You’ve taken your time meticulously following the procurement process from inception of the idea through to contract award. You’ve spent all the time you needed getting your ESPD right and crafting some good contract documents to get the necessary competition and achieve best value. Your contract award reports have been signed off and you’ve even managed to fit in time for a lessons learned document.

But you’ve got another tender sitting waiting to be evaluated. And another that needs sign off from the stakeholders before you can publish. Not to mention that phone call you’ve just taken or email you’ve read assigning you a new project or asking for your input.

So you think to yourself, “It’s ok, I’ll arrange the mobilisation meeting and then the Operations side of the business can take it from there. After all, it’s an easy contract – it’ll take care of itself…”.

Stop. No really, stop. Why, after putting all the hard yards in to begin with, would you then choose to step back at such a critical juncture? Are you sure that without your input, all those savings and benefits you agreed with the supplier will be delivered? And can you prove you are getting what you asked for?

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Let’s take a step back from this and stop blaming ourselves as individuals. Time is not on procurement’s side (as I have said in the past) and there’s not always time to perform all the necessary tasks as part of the procurement process. When push comes to shove and there are tenders to be published, one of the first things to get dropped, alongside training and development, is frequently contract management.

Why? That’s a hard one to answer. In many public sector organisations, the issue comes down to an unholy trinity of reasons.

  1. A lack of resources in procurement departments, be that head count, budget, or similar;
  2. A lack of time, which has been covered extensively in the past; and
  3. A high churn of tenders, meaning that getting the contract signed has become the priority.

Unfortunately, the reality is that the public sector is falling victim to the paradox of contract management. It might be felt that there isn’t sufficient time to manage contracts effectively, but without a procurement focus, how are organisations going to realise savings offered by and agreed with suppliers.

In some cases, from personal experience, procurement isn’t even charged with the on-going contract management. In many organisations, both in the public and the private sectors, once procurement has put the contract in place, it’s passed to contract managers or end users for its duration.

Not Rising to the Challenge

Look for the importance of contract management and you don’t have to go far to see why and where it drives success. In the past 12 months there have been stark examples of where contract management has fallen down to disastrous and altogether spectacular effect.

The collapse of Carillion and the endless budget overruns of HS2 are just two examples. A bit further in the past, the National Programme for IT for the NHS, which cost £6 billion more than it should have and has, to date, only delivered a third of the predicted benefits, is another.

However, on the flip side of that there are examples of where good contract management has made a tangible (and quantifiable) difference in public sector projects. The new Queensferry Crossing over the Firth of Forth actually came in £100 million cheaper than initial estimates suggested, with credit being given to the overall management of the project.

The NHS Wales Informatics Service project has set up digital systems to aid patients with prescriptions and staff with communication, aimed at creating greater efficiencies across the strained health sector.

And if you’re unsure about procurement’s involvement in these projects, both have been nominated as regional winners for national awards at the GO Awards, which recognises best practice in public sector procurement across the UK.

Getting Mavericks Out of the Danger Zone

Let me start this section by contradicting much of what I have written before. Procurement needs to actively take on contract management, irrespective of the time commitment. And not only this, but it needs to be a priority on the same level as market analysis and tendering. As has been shown with the example above, good contract management can deliver savings and value, but it also extends beyond this too.

Improved compliance, standardising processes and procedures, spend and performance analysis and spend visibility are all key benefits. On top of this, it can help reduce maverick spend (a procurement favourite!) by taking away a route to using a non-contract supplier, or non-contract items.

And, as a final benefit, it’ll help you save time when it comes to retendering, extending or renewing contracts for existing services, as you’ll know far enough in advance to do the full procurement process properly. Not so much spend (money) to save (money), but more spend (time) to save (time). And maybe we can clear up a couple of paradoxes on the way!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

Supplier Failure – Are You as Protected as You Think?

Supplier failure and collapse on a massive scale – it’ll never happen to you, right? How do you really think you’re doing to help protect your organisation from the fallout?

By Sergey Novikov/ Shutterstock

London, July 2017. Despite an “encouraging start to the year”, the warnings are coming thick and fast on Carillion. By November 2017, the company has issued its third profit warning in five months and things are looking bleak. And in mid-January 2018, despite the deferral of two financial covenants, the company collapses into liquidation.

In the days that follow, the investigations and enquiries begin. How did a company so integral to so many high value and high profile UK Government projects get into such trouble? Where and how did billions of pounds worth of contracts become over £1.5 billion worth of debt?

And, perhaps most importantly of all, how did numerous civil servants, Government contract specialists and expert financial consultants not see it coming?

2018 – The Year of Demises

The demise of a construction giant will go on to leave an enormous hole for the UK Government to fill in order to continue providing key services across the country such as school meals and hospital and prison cleaning, and ensuring that the 19,500 employees delivering public services are able to be paid.

The final cost to the UK taxpayer is estimated to be more than £148 million, but the knock-on effects will be felt for some time to come. Late last year it was reported that there had been a 20 per cent rise in insolvencies in the construction industry as sub-contractors and small businesses struggled following Carillion’s collapse.

But 2018 wasn’t finished there. Fast-forward a little more than ten months and the unthinkable happened again. Twice. First, one of Carillion’s key competitors, Interserve, issued a warning on the state of its finances and increasing debt predictions to between £625 million and £675 million in 2018.

Then just before Christmas, Healthcare Environmental Services (HES), a key provider in the disposal of medical and clinical waste, closed its doors with the loss of nearly 200 jobs and leaving the NHS and Local Authorities scrambling to ensure that services could be delivered by another organisation.

Where did it go wrong?

If your procurement department was anything like mine, then all three situations dominated conversations for weeks after these public announcements. Beyond the usual, “well, I’m glad that wasn’t us”, and the frantic checking to understand exposure, questions were starting to be asked.

Give a procurement professional long enough and they’ll be able to pick through the wreckage of a broken contract and understand roughly where things went wrong. And frequently, lines are drawn back to the contract or contracts put in place and the overall management of this.

But in these cases, and particularly in the case of Carillion, there was a general disbelief that something like this could have been allowed to happen. After all, how was the overall performance of the supplier missed? And just why, even though it was clear that there were serious financial difficulties, was Carillion awarded more contracts to help bolster its financial position?

Like me, maybe you thought, “I’d like to have seen the procurement process for that one.” Or maybe you wouldn’t…

And probably just as likely, even though you tell yourself that it would never happen on one of your contracts, you go back to check. You know, just to be 100 per cent sure that all your checks and balances are in place.

Checks and Balances

What has subsequently been reported is that Carillion, in conjunction with its appointed internal auditor Deloitte, had been, “”unable or unwilling” to identify failings in financial controls, or “too readily ignored them””. This is where there may be some explanation or sympathy for the procurement process.

In the public sector, as in the private sector, procurement will work in tandem with other departments in its organisation to ensure the robustness of the contract and the suitability of the supplier. As part of public tendering exercises, there are a two stages in which this can happen for Economic and Financial standing assessment.

The first comes as part of the European Single Procurement Document (ESPD). Buyers will outline the minimum financial requirements for the contract, usually linked to contract value, complexity, volume and length, as part of their Contract Notice and ESPD. This can be, for example, a positive outcome for pre-tax profits for the previous 3 years, and/or certain outcomes linked to financial accounting ratios.

Suppliers will confirm that they comply with this and at this stage may provide evidence for this. This is backed up by the second stage for financial checks, the Request for Documentation (RfD). The RfD allows for this evidence to be requested by procurement of successful suppliers as a final check before contract award. These checks then provide the comfort that the supplier has a firm financial footing to undertake the contract.

The key issue here, and in the case of Carillion, is that the assessments are only as good as the information that is filed and provided.

Procurement’s Role and Remit

As with many of the challenges in the public sector, we’re left asking the question of what is procurement’s role and remit in this situation. There needs to be an understanding that procurement can only do so much. However, what they do have the responsibility to do needs to be done correctly.

In the Carillion example, procurement may asked all the right questions, but if the evidence provided isn’t accurate, it still wouldn’t have made any difference. Procurement can put in the ground work up front, before they even get to the stage of requesting responses to ESPDs and the like.

When looking at your next contracts, make sure that you have the following:

  • An accurate specification – this will fully outline the scope of requirements and the supplier’s responsibilities;
  • Estimated project volumes – based on historical usage data where applicable, otherwise linked to the specification requirements;
  • Market analysis – who are the suppliers that are likely to bid for this work? What is the overall market spend like with the top suppliers?; and
  • Understanding of current contracts – which suppliers have won the most business from you recently? Is anyone looking like they may have capacity issues?

Working with key stakeholders across the organisation is critical. Not only will this improve the accuracy of the data that is issued with the contract, but it will also mean that there’s an overall understanding of who is actually best placed to cope with the new package of work. Particularly if one supplier seems like they are overstretching themselves.

Then it’s back to a footing of openness and honesty with suppliers so that any potential issues with financial performance are flagged up well ahead of time. Build that relationship with your suppliers and you may help to head off a situation where it’s your contract on the front page of the newspaper next time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

Delays and Overspend – Do Your Contracts Have Your Back?

If the pot of gold at a contract’s end is realised savings, why do so few contracts provide adequate cover for completion delays and overspend? It’s time for the public sector to get serious about damages.

By Everett Collection /Shutterstock

In procurement we are no strangers to contracts overrunning or budgets being exceeded. As hard as procurement professionals try, sometimes it’s just not possible to get a contract placed in time, have works completed to schedule, or stay within the original budget.

In the public sector, the negative outcomes associated with these contracts are magnified. After all, they are usually delivering public services or infrastructure, and spending public money. The root cause for delays and overspend this can frequently be tracked to poor contract or relationship management, scope creep or unrealistic cost or project estimates at the outset.

While many of the issues can be attributed to internal process, with the public sector very much its own worst enemy, sometimes external suppliers and contractors are at fault. However, in many cases, the contracts that have been agreed and signed lack the clauses that would help protect procurement and the wider organisations against the costs associated with the delays.

As the challenge of delivering projects on time and in budget increases, we have to asked the question – why is public sector procurement so bad at using liquidated damage or penalty clauses in contracts?

High Profile Failures

Before taking a closer look at the clauses that could assist the public sector in their contracts, let’s have a look at some of the most high profile examples of projects that have suffered colossal overruns or budgetary overspends.

It won’t take you very long to find some examples in the media of these projects. What these 4 have in common is that even though some of the fault lay or lies with contractors, the public sector (and therefore the taxpayer) was and are the one to shoulder the burden of additional costs.

In 1997, a plan was put in place to build a new home for the recently re-established Scottish Executive (to become the Scottish Government). Initial estimates for the project were a total budget of £10-40m and an opening date of January 2004. By the time the building opened in October 2004, the total cost had risen to £414.1m (a figure confirmed in 2007).

Despite an enquiry stating that the wrong type of construction contracts had been used at the outset, and claims of contractors overcharging, no legal action was taken against contractors to recoup any costs.

  • London Olympics and Paralympics

Although the Games frequently have Olympic-sized budgetary overruns, the London Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 took the gold medal for the most expensive summer games ever. When London won the right to host in 2005, the budget was estimated at £2.4 billion. By the time the games were completed, the total cost ran to over £8.7 billion.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog), essentially a private company, were criticised for the contracts it put in place, particularly for security for the Games. However, in the end, the UK taxpayer ended up footing the bill for the new budget.

Another project that looked to re-introduce a service that had been lost to the City of Edinburgh, the trams were originally budgeted at £545 million and be completed by 2011. In the end, the network delivered was only a third of what was originally planned, cost £776 million and didn’t start operating until 2014.

Again the finger was pointed at the contracts being used and courts found against Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE), the public company responsible for project delivery, on a number of dispute with the main contractor. However, there was never any money recovered from contractors, leaving the taxpayer out of pocket again.

  • Crossrail

The most recent and still incomplete example of the group. At the time of writing, the project is already 9 months delayed to start operating, received 3 bailouts in 2018 totalling over £2 billion, and is already £600 million over budget. Even these estimates may prove to be lower than the actual final cost, and currently there is no agreement on who will shoulder this burden.

It’s all very well saying that contracts were at fault for these delays and budget issues, but the specifics of this are rarely highlighted. For example, were clauses put in place in the contract to help return money to the Local Authority or Government where delays occurred? This brings us round to our focus – Liquidated Damages.

Your Contract Shield

Liquidated Damages – A fixed or determined sum agreed by the parties to a contract to be payable on breach by one of the parties.

Before we do anything else, let’s caveat that in the examples above, and in many other cases, the fault may lie with the contracting authority in part or wholly. In this case, Liquidated Damages would be as much use as a chocolate fireguard. But where it can be proven that the contractor is at fault, then we’re in business.

The important part of the definition above is that the damages are a fixed sum, agreed by both parties up front. Damages which aren’t agreed in advance and have no set value are classed as penalty clauses, and are unenforceable in most contracts.

The key is for work to be done up front on this between the contracting parties. This means that levels of damages are agreed and aren’t subject to challenge further down the line. The damages also have to be realistic in line with estimates of the costs of a breach of contract, including delays to completion or commissioning.

For example, if you have a construction project, you might look at the day rate being charged by the contractor and agreed that this will be the rate used for damages per day in the event of delays. For the most part, Liquidated Damages will likely be capped at a certain value (say 20 per cent of the total contract value), providing a level of fairness for both sides.

Setting Up Your Clauses

Clearly, given the intricacies of the laws surrounding contracts, this isn’t something that procurement should be approaching in isolation. If you do feel that your contract would benefit from a Liquidated Damages clause, then you should engage at the earliest opportunity with your Legal department.

Make sure the clauses are set up correctly and called out clearly in the contract. Once you have awarded your tender, you should take time to speak to the successful supplier. This will ensure that the clause is agreed to and everyone is aware of the full implications of it.

No-one wants to use these clauses in contracts – it suggests that something has gone wrong in the contract management, plus the damages aren’t going to cover the full extent of the costs too. But by having them in place to begin with, procurement can help to limit the possible damage to their organisation in the event that budgets or schedules go awry.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

Dynamic Purchasing Systems – The New Normal?

The framework is dead – long live the framework? As the public sector moves to make collaborative procurement easier, the Dynamic Purchasing System may be the key to long-term planning.

By Andrey Yurlov/ Shutterstock

So you know all about collaborative procurement frameworks in the public sector? Are you planning on using them in the short-term to kick start your year? You might want to hold on a second as there’s something that you might want to try out.

We have touched on collaborative frameworks that are available to public sector organisations in a previous article. Continuing the theme of the difficulties of collaboration, we come to a relatively new beast in the procurement jungle. This is the Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS).

Speaking from experience, it’s one of the hardest exercises I’ve done in my procurement career to date. Not only do you need to have all your stakeholders and requirements lined up before you even start (more on that shortly), but the complexity of the set-up has the ability to leave you scratching your head in utter confusion.

As hard a beast as it is to tame, once it’s in place it has the potential to solve a number of woes commonly associated with frameworks.

Let’s Get Dynamic

There are an increasing number of public sector organisations beginning to use a DPS as an alternative that still bears more than a passing resemblance to traditional frameworks. Buyers still have a list of pre-qualified suppliers who can compete in subsequent tenders, while suppliers can widen their chances by applying for as many Lots as they feel are relevant to their operations.

The key difference is that at the conclusion of the first stage, any suppliers who have been unsuccessful in their application for one or more Lots may reapply. They’ll then be re-evaluated and informed if they have been successful. A kind of ‘wash, rinse, repeat’ situation.

There are standard timelines involved both the first and second stages (see more here) and, unfortunately, it’s not a fast process. If you have never used a DPS, then you might wonder what actually makes it different from your standard frameworks. We’ll cover some Pros and Cons shortly, but in essence there are two key differences.

  1. The length of the DPS – Where a framework may be limited to 3-4 years, there is no upper time limit on a DPS. The buyer would make a decision on an appropriate length, taking into consideration the goods or services being procured, the market and any anticipated changes in scope or market conditions.
  • The ‘open’ application – The DPS is more dynamic than a framework (it’s in the name really!). Suppliers can apply to join at any time during the life of the DPS and are then on it for its duration. This is particularly good if there are new suppliers in the market, but also that unsuccessful suppliers don’t miss out on the chance of business for a number of years.

The Pros – Buyers and Suppliers

Beyond the longer length of the DPS and the fact that suppliers can be added at any time, there are a number of other benefits on both sides of the fence.

  • Reduced Timescales – see, I said we’d get back here! The length of time tenders are out in the market for can be as little as 10 days. This is a major reduction based on the minimum of 25 days for most Restricted procedures. And there’s more…
  • One Notice, No Standstill – Once the first Contract Notice has been sent out, there’s no requirement to do an individual one for each tender. And Award Notices can be grouped over a longer period to be issued in one go. AND there’s no requirement for a 10 day Standstill period on awards. All this means less time and valuable resources being spent on administration.
  • Access for SMEs – the DPS naturally sets up a greater number of smaller Lots and work packages, meaning that it’s much more attractive for SMEs to get involved. It maximises their involvement and means that they are competing on a level playing field with larger organisations.
  • Fully Electronic – further to this, all documentation has to be available in electronic format within the DPS, for its full duration. This means a level playing field again for any suppliers joining later in the process.

The Cons – Is it really for you?

Before we get carried away thinking a DPS is the panacea we’ve all been waiting for, there are a couple of caveats. Some are obvious, others come only with the painful experience of setting one up.

  • No Direct Awards, No Call Offs – unlike a traditional framework, there’s no scope of Direct Award or Call Offs from a DPS. Any procurement projects put through it need to have a full set of tender documents.
  • Set Up Isn’t Easy – as you might expect for something this size, scale and value, the early stages need some hard graft and infinite patience. You’re going to need to have outline specifications, tender documents and T&Cs, as well as a firm idea of what is going through each Lot. Set up alone could take a number of months.
  • No Guarantees – as we found, much to our chagrin, there are no guarantees that the suppliers you want will join. You can lead a horse (or supplier) to water with the notices, emails and follow ups, but they may choose not to drink. After all, from their point of view, they still have significant competition to go through to get any business.
  • It’s not for everything – there are categories and commodities for which a DPS will be brilliant. Markets where there is a fast pace of change or large number of new entrants are good. Commodities with a high volume of transactions, or less complex scope, can greatly benefit. But if you have a highly complex good or service and low number of contracts in your category or commodity, it may not be for you.

The New Normal?

It’s unlikely that Dynamic Purchasing Systems will completely replace traditional frameworks in the future. However, it does provide a powerful and useful tool for buyers both in getting tenders to market and ensuring a good level of on-going competition. Suppliers will benefit from reduced administration too, as they only need to pre-qualify once, but may be put off by the sheer size and scale of the DPS if you have a large number of Lots.

It’s definitely worth looking in more detail at the available information to see if a DPS is for you, and how you would set it up. Make sure you communicate with the market to see if it’s applicable (also good as a heads up that it’s coming) and how the Lots might be split down. Internally, gear everyone up and get everything in place. Once you explain the benefits, people are likely to get on board quickly!

Ultimately, don’t be put off by it. Yes, it’s something completely different that you may never have done before. But then, when’s that ever stopped procurement before?!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!