Council buyers accused of hindering card projects

23 April 2003
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24 April 2003 | Geraint John

Local authority procurement professionals are dragging their feet on purchasing cards, according to one of the sector's leading exponents of card usage.

Paul Muir, project manager, card implementation, at Manchester City Council, said most of the successful projects he knew of - including at his own authority - were driven by finance rather than procurement.

Speaking at a CIPS event, "Purchasing cards - the boardroom debate", in London earlier this month, Muir said: "Where corporate procurement people are involved in purchasing card programmes in local authorities, they are failing."

This was not necessarily because they were blocking their implementation, he told SM. "They just aren't very enthusiastic about them. They don't seem to believe the benefits."

Muir blamed a resistance to change and a fear of losing responsibility for buying. But this suggested they hadn't grasped how cards worked.

He added that card projects were likely to be more successful if purchasing specialists played an active role.

Manchester City Council introduced cards three years ago and 800 staff now used them for a variety of purchases, Muir said. In 2002, £37 million was spent on the card and the target for this year is £50 million.

Gerry Walsh, vice-president of global procurement at American Express, another speaker at the event, said it wasn't only public-sector purchasers who were failing to grasp the opportunity.

Many in the private sector had started to introduce card programmes, but appeared to have "run out of steam prematurely", issuing too few cards and being too quick to move on to the next big thing. Others had failed to involve themselves in the implementation phase at all.

"Purchasing cards are about changing the culture of an organisation," he said. "To do that, you need people with the dedication and the passion to drive it through."

An electronic poll among the 60 delegates showed that, of those using cards, a third said the main benefit was lower administration of low-value purchases. This was followed by freeing up purchasers for other work (21 per cent), shorter procurement cycles (18 per cent) and good management information (15 per cent).


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