Public buying organisations must go further than offering best price

Gurjit Degun
11 February 2014

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12 February 2014 | Gurjit Degun

Public buying organisations need to offer more than just achieving the best price for customers, and must follow the evolving procurement agenda.

That’s according to John Doherty, managing director at Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation (ESPO), who said a new team has helped take a more customer focus approach.

ESPO, which is owned by seven public bodies, has a new team of directors with a mix of public sector and private sector experience.

In an interview with SM, Doherty said price is “just part of the challenges that we face” but it remains the “core backbone” of ESPO. He explained that new legislation, including changes to the EU directives, and a lack of funding mean that public sector bodies have a lot on their plate.

“Our key role is to raise the profile of the value and benefits of engaging in the ESPO solutions and help them resolve many of the challenges which [our customers] face,” said Doherty.

“We’ve got to move on, the agenda’s moved on but I don’t necessarily feel that the perception of public buying organisations has moved on at the same time. I’m not saying what went before was wrong, quite the opposite…times have changed.”

He said he wants to raise awareness of the service ESPO provides such as training, which can help its public sector customers keep up to date with new laws, and spend analytics. Doherty added ESPO is currently rolling out a training programme for the Cabinet Office.

Kristian Smith, assistant director of procurement and compliance at ESPO, added: “While these are times of austerity for our customers, public procurement has never had such an agenda or platform to be part of the solution.

“We don’t want to be the best kept secret at a time where we need to pull together across local government and the wider public sector.”

In terms of the organisation's future expansion Doherty added this could be across various markets such as health and housing, but “there’s so much more opportunity that our core customer base can take advantage of before we start looking to grow elsewhere”.

He added: “Our vision is to be a provider of public sector procurement solutions. I don’t define that as market share. I don’t define that as saying that in this sector using public share to chase public money when actually the investment of public money to drive out the right solutions – and we desperately need the right solutions to be gained – I think it is right for us, strategically. And indeed as a public body, that’s what we see our purpose as.”

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