This is the most “exhilarating” time to be in public service and procurement is uniquely placed to address the challenges of shrinking resources and service delivery, a conference was told.
Martin Reeves, chief executive of Coventry City Council, said “no one has the answer” to falling income and greater demand for services, and procurement professionals in local government need to “look for things that are on the edge” to do things differently.
Reeves, who is also the national procurement champion for local government, said local authorities had experienced the “biggest fallout in revenue and capital ever”, but the sector still spent £60 billion a year on services and capital projects.
“If people think local government has been hard hit in revenue, wait and see in the next parliament when there will be even harder cuts,” he said. “This is without doubt the most exhilarating time to be in public service. No one has the answer. It’s going to require messy, bold leadership.”
Speaking at the Society of Procurement Officers in Local Government Conference in London, Reeves said health and social care were key areas where reform was needed and procurement professionals had to “get to the front of the decision”.
“Procurement has an opportunity to ask the right kinds of questions,” he said. “Something has got to change about the way in which we start to think about how resources are delivered to achieve outcomes rather than satisfy procedures.”
He went on: “I believe we have got an opportunity to reform what public sector reform is really all about, about the relation between central and local government, the commercial sector at all levels, the hybrid sector.”
Reeves said buyers had to “think differently about how we grasp those opportunities, or we can deny there are opportunities there and carry on being solid, managing risk rather than taking risk”.
“The biggest risk is to carry on with the status quo, which I believe will not deliver the profession to where it needs to be,” he said.
“You must be locked in in a much more central way. Spend more time thinking about service delivery. You need to be out in service areas, understanding what makes the organisation tick.
“You have an opportunity to change the risk profile of local authorities, about how we could use our resources in fundamentally different ways to create outcomes.”