In conversation with Peter Schofield: embracing collaborative procurement

What is collaborative procurement, and how do you manage this on behalf of Greater Manchester?

There is a wide range of ways to collaborate in procurement – starting from sharing copies of documents between authorities to full blown shared services. The drivers vary too – from sharing resources to provide more capacity to deliver projects to pooling requirements to achieve better outcomes.

In GM we have a couple of shared services – STAR which a formal arrangement with 4 councils that reports to a joint committee and an more informal arrangement under which one authority seconds a senior procurement professional from another. In addition, the AGMA Procurement Hub manages a range of collaborative procurement projects on a “hub and spoke” basis under which a lead authority or the procurement hub will conduct a procurement on behalf of a number of authorities with the objective of securing better outcomes whether they be Social, Environmental or Economic or a blend of the three.

What do you see as the main demands on local government procurement teams?

In recent years this has changed from delivering compliant procurement to a focus on helping councils to achieve savings but, whilst these are still important functions, procurement teams are now being asked to support new ways of delivering services with a blend of partners in response to the increased demand on key services at a time when resources are diminishing.

This means that procurement professionals are now involved in strategic discussions about service delivery so that they are better able to deliver new solutions in a compliant, cost efficient and effective way. The result should lead to more innovative ways of procuring using more pre-market engagement and developing better dialogue and negotiation skills.

Another demand is the need to ensure that Social Value is delivered through all procurement activity – whilst the Social Value Act only applies to Services below the OU threshold, Councils expect it to be applied to all procurement activity and this involves working with more stakeholders and being an advocate for Social Value to ensure that budget holders and commissioners appreciate the wider benefits.

I haven’t mentioned Brexit but I don’t currently see procurement as a principal area of focus in the negotiations and I don’t expect repealing the 2015 Procurement Regulations to be a high post Brexit priority.

 What do you think are the main advantages of collaborative procurement?

Collaboration provides a range of benefits – but isn’t necessarily applicable to all procurement activity.

There are efficiency benefits for participating authorities through doing things once and these efficiencies also apply to suppliers who have fewer tenders to respond to.

We also deliver improved Social Value outcomes by collaborating over our GM approach. Suppliers find the consistency helpful and the Voluntary and Community Sector are more engaged through the regional approach. Each authority will drive out the benefits that best fit their own localities but everyone is also contributing to the bigger picture. 

How important is it to consider the wider socio-economic impact of procurement decisions in local government?

This is increasingly important – as austerity has increased pressure on budgets, it is more important than ever to make every item of expenditure count.

If a procurement decision means that more and better jobs are offered to people in local areas that may be struggling to access the labour market for health or other reasons, then procurement has helped to make a contribution to the council’s wider objectives.

Taking account of environmental issues and eliciting support for the voluntary and community sector are also impacts that can be improved through smarter procurement and are likely, in the longer term to have the effect of reducing demand on health services.  

How do you see local government procurement changing in the coming years?

As I mentioned above, Brexit won’t mean that we suddenly start to make up our own rules – there is a general consensus that the latest EU rules as translated into English Law are quite workable and fair.

In my view, it may be stating the obvious but innovation is the future – more innovative ways of delivering services will demand the adoption of more innovative procurement routes. We already have access to Pre-Commercial Procurement and Innovation Partnerships but seldom use them.

There is also a challenge in procuring innovation itself as new apps and digital (or other) ways of doing things are developed so that today’s solutions may be out of date very soon. We need to develop the agility to change and work more in partnership with a varying range of large and small organisations.

Initiatives such as Devolution are here to stay and in future, services will be co-produced and designed across multi-sector partners – doing this in a fair, transparent and proportionate manner is a challenge that the profession must rise to.

Peter Schofield is the Procurement Programme Manager at the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, and will be speaking on ‘getting ‘bid ready’ and the Impact of fostering pre-engagement with your local market’, at the Public Sector Solutions Expo on 20 November. To register or find out more, please click here.