Millions saved through Kent Council's new 'sell not tell' procurement ethos

Gurjit Degun
15 April 2014

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15 April 2014 | Gurjit Degun

Kent County Council (KCC) has transformed its procurement department by introducing a central team and taking a proactive approach.

In an exclusive interview with SM, the local authority's head of procurement Henry Swan said the council has saved around £16 million since April 2012, and is set to save another £20 million in the next financial year. The local authority has a £1 billion purchasing spend.

Swan, who joined the council around two-and-a-half years ago, said his strategy was to develop resources, systems and processes in procurement. “We needed to have standard, clear processes,” he said. “One of the things that people do a lot is tell people off for not following the rules, when it is impossible to find out what the rules are in the first place. It’s about making things clear for our customers.

“With a central team, I don’t want our customers to do the procurement, I want them to come to me and we’ll do procurement with them - not to them - so that we get the solution that we want. So we’ve made a series of flow charts which they can follow, and then there’s a separate series of flow charts and guides to make sure [my team] do procurement properly.”

Swan has a team of 34, up from 10 when he started. Everyone on the team is either a CIPS member or is studying toward membership, something introduced to get a good standard of knowledge among the staff.

He also introduced a procurement board which includes the leader of the council and other cabinet members and senior members. “By having the board, the key players are involved at the beginning and then it’s for the members to decide what they want,” said Swan. He explained when he arrived he often found at the end of a project, some members would say they didn’t like it, which caused a “major issue, especially in the public sector where it’s impossible to change at the end”.

Swan has also implemented an electronic catalogue for items such as stationery which costs less than £100, and he has been pushing his team to make use of e-auctions and e-tendering. The first auction saw savings of £100,000. Other changes included drawing up a standard contract for procurement, better contract management, and making sure the team communicates its key savings with the council.

He believed the success was down to his “sell not tell” ethos, and making an effort to meet the different teams at KCC. “I’ve seen many people fail by telling people what to do and that is not the way to get people to use your service or to actually want to engage with you. The way to make them engage is to by saying, ‘I can help you’. I’m not here to tell people what to do so by selling we get them to want to use our services.”


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