Procurement becomes a dirty word in councils

11 March 2010

11 March 2010 | Carly Chynoweth

Public sector procurement professionals will have to think of a new way to describe themselves thanks to the Local Government Association’s (LGA) latest list of banned words.

“Procurement” and “commissioning” join “synergies”, “leverage” and “low-hanging fruit” as words and phrases that the LGA has said should never be used when talking to members of the public. “Sustainable”, “collaboration” and “partnership working” are also out.

The association argued that, while it’s impossible for public sector experts to avoid using some jargon when talking to each other, it should be stripped out of any communication aimed at the public.

“The public sector must not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases,” said LGA chairman Margaret Eaton. “Why do we have to have a ‘webinar trialogue for the wellderly’ when the public sector could just ‘talk about caring for the elderly’ instead?”

But Peter Howarth, chief executive of the Society of Procurement Officers in Local Government, described the idea of proscribing certain words as “political correctness gone mad” and criticised the amount of time the sector spent debating semantics.

“If the target is to bring simplicity back to the language of government I applaud it [but on the whole] we should stop worrying and get on with our jobs,” he said.

Richard Jowers, supplier relationship manager at Essex County Council, said that he prefers to describe the profession as procurement rather than purchasing or buying.

“If I could not say ‘procurement’ or ‘commissioning’ I would describe the function as buying, but it sounds very old-fashioned.”

Jowers argued that professionals should be able to decide for themselves what word to use in any given conversation. “The list is overly prescriptive. You should be able to talk to the public about what you are doing using clear language but no one needs to be told which word to use. You can judge what to say, and if people don’t understand then you just explain it.”

Read the full list of banned words here.

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