Project management skills the key to better relations

18 October 2000
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19 October 2000 | David Arminas

Project management skills will be increasingly important as local and central government seek value-for-money improvements on expensive projects.

Finding professionals with these skills should be a priority to ensure closer relationships with major suppliers, Brian Rigby, deputy chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce, told delegates at the annual confernece of the Society of Purchasing Officers in Local Government.

Contract negotiations for large construction and IT projects are prime examples of where purchasing must "develop a more mature relationship" with suppliers, said Rigby.

"More strategic thinking is required by local authorities. It's a national problem," David Pointon, procurement manager at Portsmouth City Council, told SM. Basic business skills were essential for purchasing staff if they are to move into strategic purchasing, but there are few organisations that can train people, he said.

"Staff in non-contracting departments should have basic training in contracts. In a small authority you need to have project management skills, but not necessarily those needed for a multi-million-pound project."

Pointon heads three public finance initiative (PFI) projects - a secondary school, a social services centre and a highways asset management contract. To ensure that his staff have the right skills, he has given them smaller projects, such as meals-on-wheels contracts.

PFI contract management negotiations are particularly lengthy, taking up to 18 months, Pat Barlow, contracts director at BT Partnerships Finance Group, told delegates. "The thing to remember in complex negotiation is that you are working on an outcome, not detailed specification. The emphasis is on whole-life costs, quality and customer satisfaction."

Project management skills will reflect this. "[But] you have to bear in mind there is a limited number of people with contract management skills in the country," Barlow told SM.

"This is partially a result of people not being given the opportunity to learn… Posts are left free as they can't find the people with the right skills."


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