Procurement: The new and improved model?!


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In 2011 the Coalition Government launched their ‘new’ Government Construction Strategy with its aim to improve the industry whilst reducing whole life cost and carbon by 20 per cent by 2015.

Procurement: the new and improved model

A major part of the strategy focused on reforming public sector procurement, and in particular trialling a series of new procurement methods to drive these improvements and efficiencies by effecting behavioural and cultural change. The models intended to draw on established best practice and drive an ‘evolutionary, not revolutionary change’ across the public sector. They utilise a range of common principles which emphasise the need for collaborative working and early contractor involvement, where the supply chain responds to an outline client requirement and declared budget rather than a pre-determined design.

The three models are:

  • Cost Led Procurement – During the Cost Led Procurement process, a client sets out their output specification against a challenging cost ceiling based on their own knowledge and experience of costs . They then invite the supply chain to bring their own collaborative understanding to develop an innovative response to the brief. CLP is of particular use in a competitive framework environment where there is opportunity to continually improve on the unit costs of the programme working collaboratively with the supply chain.
  • Integrated Project Insurance – This is the most innovative and new approach. The Integrated Project Insurance (IPI) model offers clients the opportunity to create a holistic and integrated project team (an ‘Alliance Board’) to eliminate the “blame/claim” culture. The innovative “integrated project insurance” package limits the risk for the individual members of the team, fosters joint ownership of the project, and thereby reduces the likelihood of overrunning in terms of cost and time.
  • Two Stage Open Book – This model improves on an established approach often used in a framework environment. At the first stage a client invites prospective integrated teams to bid for a project based on their ability to deliver an outline brief and cost benchmark. The appointed team works alongside the client to build up a proposal after which the construction contract is awarded – this is the second stage.

In 2012 a trial programme for the new models was established which included projects from the Ministry of Justice and the Environment Agency, and more recently the procurement of the Education Funding Authority regional framework. However the trials have so far only focussed on CLP and Two Stage Open Book, as due to the innovative nature of IPI it has taken more effort to initiate a trial project.

Also in line with the development of the new models and in order to bring about further reform, the GCS reinforced the need to improve the public sector procurers skills. It has backed the creation of a Major Projects Leadership Academy run in partnership with the Saïd Oxford Business School and Deloitte, and ‘encouraged’ the dissemination of best practice across central and local government. Finally the GCS also provided an updated version of the Common Minimum Standards for procurement. Although the impact of these initiatives is more difficult to measure.

Despite all of this I still hear from contractors on a regular basis that clients are more concerned with lowest price tendering. Or are too reliant on their advisors producing a design before they procure a contractor and then expecting innovation and value engineering to further reduce their spend. So for me the big question now is – three years on, and (perhaps more importantly) less than twelve months to the next general election, have all of these reforms made any difference in the industry?

Based on the evidence provided in the trial projects the potential benefits of the new procurement models are demonstrable for all parties. However the trials have been restricted to a small number of high value central government projects. And whilst anecdotal evidence suggests that things are improving generally in construction, this is more than likely related to an upturn in the economy as a whole.