Plea to public sector buyers to stop ‘hiding behind' EU regulations

Gurjit Degun
29 May 2014

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29 May 2014 | Gurjit Degun

Buyers are using the EU procurement regulations as a “comfort blanket”, the head of procurement at Staffordshire County Council has said.

In an exclusive interview with SM, Ian Simpson said: “I think for too long we’ve been seen as people putting up a barrier saying, ‘you can’t do that,’ instead of ‘you can’t do that - but try this’.

“A plea to my fellow procurement professionals, stop hiding behind the EU. It’s a comfort blanket for people. I’ve always worked on the premise that provided it doesn’t say you can’t do x, you do it. Rather than it doesn’t say you can do it.”

Simpson explained two years ago he implemented a structure where all procurement professionals report into a central office. He said this included having “clear line management responsibility, guidance coaching, mentoring and common career development paths so that people are up-skilled to the same level at the same time”.

To “get rid of people doing procurement to varying degrees of proficiency and in some cases totally unsupported”, the council invested heavily in training. Simpson said developing commercial contract management skills has been an important part of this.

He said: “What we’re trying to avoid is the old philosophy in local government of ‘let and forget’ so the game used to be you let a legally compliant contract, you put it in the drawer and you moved on, and then in three years time when the contract expires, you let it again.

"It’s about introducing commercial insight into decision making and making sure that procurement is at the heart of transformation.”

The council has also cut its tender documentation by a third, and moved away from asking for too much information so that it can work with more small businesses. Simpson said the team now takes a “risk-based approach to insurance” by requesting appropriate levels of insurance and looks at the “mitigated risk linked to the likelihood of risk happening”.

Staffordshire County Council, which won the CIPS Supply Management Award for Best Public Procurement Project last year, has also partnered with Aspire Housing Group, Social Enterprise West Midlands and Newcastle Borough Council to introduce a database where businesses can save their answers to a set of common PQQs to avoid having to fill in the same information every time they bid for a contract. They can then focus on the specific questions related to the tender.

“It’s about making the conditions that you impose on providers commensurate with the reward on offer,” explained Simpson. “So if it is a low value contract, you don’t need to make them jump through loads of hoops. It’s about making sure that you make the requirements appropriate to what you’re buying at that time.”

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