'Beware a one-size-fits-all procurement model'

24 February 2014

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24 February 2014 | Will Green

The recently appointed head of procurement across two county councils has emphasised the importance of not imposing a “one-size-fits-all” model.

Laura Langstaff, who took over spend at Surrey and East Sussex county councils last summer, said it was vital to recognise local needs and markets.

“I have been very careful not to enforce a one-size-fits-all and recognise some of the local demands and differences between the two organisations,” she said.

Langstaff, who worked at Surrey previously, was also ambivalent about the possibility of a single procurement department for both councils.

“For some categories of spend it would make complete sense to have a single team because there may not be the same local drivers,” she said. “But in other categories it wouldn’t be appropriate because you are going to have local needs, local specifications, local markets and you’re not going to get the same degree of efficient and effective service if you have a single team trying to deliver those projects.”

While Surrey has had a category management system in place for around five years, Langstaff has been establishing one at East Sussex along with a centralised procurement department.

But again she has been treading carefully. “It’s really important as a procurement professional to ask the right questions of the right stakeholders and understand those local priorities so they can be reflected in your procurement plan,” she said. “That has been a really important process for me to undertake over the past few months, particularly at East Sussex because obviously I needed to overcome any assumptions that I was going to be very Surrey focused.”

Langstaff is in the process of compiling financial data concerning the success of the partnership, but said she was confident of exceeding a target of 2 per cent savings per annum on the authorities’ combined £1.1 billion annual spend.

Among the areas where the partnership has launched projects are library refurbishments, where savings of up to 27 per cent have been achieved, special educational needs and highways, which also involved other local authorities.

“All councils are having to look at the way they structure services and there’s something about being really clear that business services need to be delivered in much more efficient and effective way, and I think Surrey and East Sussex have shown the way,” said Langstaff.

She said in the future they would be concentrating on contract and supplier management. “There are some real efficiencies that can be driven by getting better and smarter around the way we manage our contracts and suppliers to make sure we are getting real value throughout the life of the contract,” she said.

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