Think function, not spec, when buying together

24 February 2011

24 February 2011 | Lindsay Clark

Agreeing the function, rather than the specification, of a product or service is the key to success in collaborative public sector purchasing projects.

Speaking to SM after the Public SectorProcurement North event in Manchester, Richard Flint, head of transport for North Yorkshire Police, said allowing stakeholders to specify a technology or supplier could lead to a proliferation of the product types purchased through collaborative buying schemes.

Instead it would be better to understand the function the product or service would perform in the organisation. Once the purpose of the product or service has been established, the buying team can choose the appropriate supplier to fulfil the need, rather than trying to satisfy the desire for a variety of brands or technical requirements.

As chairman of the National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM), Flint has negotiated collaborative procurement deals across police forces and seen how difficult it to get agreement from stakeholders on specifications. The NAPFM has put together joint procurement deals for police vehicles, along with oils, tyres, and windscreens, which have saved £32 million a year in total compared with retail prices.

“If you try to get two people to amalgamate one will say: ‘We’re different, we did it this way, we carry a different type of equipment’. We say: ‘Why should you? You’re all doing the same job’,” he said.

Working with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) the NAPFM and the National Policing Improvement Agency have put together a mandatory deal to users only specify the role of the police vehicles they buy, rather than the marque or engine size, which will become available in the next few months.

ACPO’s involvement was vital to get buy-in from all the forces in England and Walessigning up to the deal, which was finalised with NAPFM last year. “We set out a standard framework, but ACPO mandated that so everybody uses the contract.  We are working toward a system where you generate volume,” added Flint.

Other public sector bodies could learn from these lessons in collaborative buying, as the cuts to central government grants squeeze local government spending, Flint said. “Why are all the dustbin wagons different in every organisation? There’s no reason for it. Obviously the costs come down dramatically when you aggregate your spend.”

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