Brexit has delivered some issues, no doubt about that. It has also presented a massive opportunity to put right a lot of what is wrong with public procurement.
“This is, indeed, a chance to establish the foundations of public procurement policy and to enable contracting authorities to drive real value for money, cost effectiveness, continuous development and innovation into the public services for the communities they serve”, writes David Salters, Director of Procurement, Greenview Group.
The principles of public procurement in most countries are well intentioned and I do not want to belittle the virtue or the spirit in which they have been developed. However, these principles have been adopted into regulations, guidance and policy to present buyers with an abundance of red tape, approval levels, advertising requirements, evaluation criteria and legal scrutiny that deliver a stagnant, rigid and inflexible approach to delivering value on public contracts.
This restricts buyers and sellers, and imposes a process mentality into the completion of documents by sellers and evaluation criteria for buyers. As we all agree, hindsight is perfect, but the cast-in-stone approach to public procurement does not allow for observation or acknowledgement of additional value uncovered throughout the process.
This rigidity is strangling development of the market and is, in turn, restricting the development of value and services. This manifests itself in a conveyor-belt approach to producing cloned procurement exercises. Instead of long-term strategies, supply chains are fixated on small sprint periods of two to five years, before the renewal of the same old process and the lottery of the evaluation process and abnormally-low bids. There is no benefit in long-term growth strategies or investment to the supplier as the procurement process will not recognise the investment benefits at the time of re-tender. The service level is managed as a ‘constant’ rather than as a continuously-developing service and value to those that need it.
I argue that we can do better than this.
The principles of public procurement are accountability, competitive supply, consistency, effectiveness, efficiency, fair-dealing, integration, integrity, informed decision-making, legality, responsiveness and transparency.
I have more than 20 years’ experience in the realm of procurement, experience in both private and public sectors, and I can guarantee that any procurement professional, private or public, will not have a single problem with any of these principles. However, these principles are wrapped into the European Union’s Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which would appear to approach the subject as if we are all ready to accept corruption and dodgy-dealing as the norm.
In my entire time in procurement, I have never been offered, let alone accepted, a bribe, sweetener or gift from a supplier (the odd box of chocolates at Christmas excluded). Now, maybe I just do not present as someone who would be influenced by such an offer, but I would suggest that it is much more likely that the market is not as corrupt as the regulations would make you believe and the paranoid approach to ‘fair play’ has gone beyond what is necessary to police bad elements within our profession. The fact that the private sector does not have to apply the same regulations would make you believe that every contract won in the private sector was owed to a rogue monetary exchange or funny handshake. This is just not accurate.
If we believe in procurement as a profession, if we reward the role appropriately, acknowledge the value creation within the role and support our colleagues, then I see no reason why government contracts cannot be delivered in full alignment with the principles of public procurement, but without the strangulating policies and regulations that accompany them.
We can self-regulate like other professions (law and medicine for example) by setting standards and levels of behaviour for ourselves with severe penalties for members who fall short of those standards. Instead of treating everyone with a tinge of mistrust, we should run the rogues out of the profession. Is this perhaps a role for a professional body (in this case CIPS), a licensing body or a standards organisation?
So, I am hoping that with Brexit there is a ceremonial ripping up of the Public Contracts Regulations and that procurement professionals are enabled to drive value, cost savings and innovation through transparent, fair and legal processes. This will benefit the public, public services and public-sector workers, whilst ensuring that supply chain partners are engaged, searching for new added-value services and developing skills that are transferable and exportable. My fear is that the European Directives are replaced with something equally as limited and just as cumbersome.
In a time when we seek leadership from our politicians, I ask that they take this opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and allow us to do what we do best – reduce costs, eliminate waste, deliver innovation and add value.