As budgets continue to shrink, how can professionals working in public procurement do more with less?
We live in a world of apparent contradictions. The amount of money being spent by global governments is rising year on year. And yet, in the majority of these countries, public sector institutions are seeing budgets shrink at the same time.
Governments are increasing spending in order to continue to provide vital services to the public. In the UK, public spending reached £761.9 billion in 2016. This is forecast to rise again in 2017, with total UK public spending is expected to be £784.1 billion.
However, there are a number of factors that need to be taken into consideration when assessing these figures. The average age of the population is on the rise. Health services are dealing with a rise in chronic diseases as a result of lifestyle choices. Investment is not only being put into social care, but also into improving the lives of the entire population. All this means that any increase in spending is swallowed up as quickly as it is released.
In addition, slow global growth means that Governments have to be aware of future spending too. What this means, ultimately, is that spending at a local level is reduced. So what does this mean for public sector procurement?
More for Less
In Scotland, funding for Councils from the Scottish Government has decreased by an estimated £180 million for 2017-18. Some of this will be offset by rising Council Tax across the country, but many Councils and Local Authorities will still be looking to make major savings.
Maintaining, and improving, public services is only the start. The public sector in a situation where they not only have to achieve more with less, but they also have to invest wisely to help future savings targets.
Technology is just one area where this can be achieved. Many cities are investing heavily in technology that will align with existing infrastructure. Following in the footsteps of pioneering cities like Barcelona and Stockholm, a number of UK cities are moving to become ‘Smart Cities’.
Intelligent Street Lighting, sensors measuring urban data including city centre footfall, air quality, and new applications for refuse collection and public parking, are just a few examples of how technology helps to build a smart city.
These technologies have a dual-benefit for Local Authorities, and other businesses in cities. Data collected can be used to drive savings initiatives, while at the same time helping to improve the quality of life for residents.
Public Procurement’s Three Cs
What does this mean for procurement? The profession will be at the forefront when it comes to savings initiatives, and will play a vital, and ever-increasing, role in these projects. But at the same time, procurement still needs to prove its worth to, and make these savings stick.
If you’re looking for somewhere to get started, or to drive continuous improvement, here are three Cs that are applicable no matter your organisation, industry, or category (or even sector).
The best saving procurement can make is by not spending money in the first place. And the best time to do this is at the very beginning of a project. By challenging requests, procurement can begin to weed out wants from needs.
Does the organisation actually need this? Does it really need the 24-carat, diamond encrusted version, when an off-the-shelf one will do just fine? Is there an alternative solution to the question that could cost less while doing the same job?
Get your client, end customer, and specification writers to really think through their requirements. Once you’ve done that, you can move on to the next C.
Collaboration should be both an internal and external activity. Procurement should be involved from the start of the project, and work closely with other departments to get the best for the organisation.
The public sector can also collaborate more too. Instead of all setting up individual projects for the same thing, why not share what’s been done in the past? Frameworks, Dynamic Purchasing Systems, and collaborative purchasing can help save time, resources, and money.
It’s also time to be working more collaboratively with our suppliers. Procurement needs to focus, where appropriate, on building long-term relationships. By building these relationships, suppliers will feel more open to collaboration, and potentially start bringing innovative solutions to the table.
And the other thing collaboration is going to help is with the final C.
As in total cost, lifecycle cost, or Total Cost of Ownership. It’s critical to long-term savings ambitions that the total cost of goods or services is understood. Depreciation, residual value, maintenance and disposal costs all need to be taken into account before any decisions are made.
Procurement should also be focusing more on the cost element with suppliers too. Profit margin is not necessarily the best place to start looking for savings. Rather than creating the perception of going after profit, switching the focus to cost can provide more opportunities for discussion and even innovation.
While these are very good areas to start in, they are just the start of a larger exercise. However, they will help to provide the foundation for best practice, and to change the way projects are put in place across the organisation.