National Trust's Procurement Director advocated being a leader in procurement because “people follow people”. © Matt Cardy/Getty Images
National Trust's Procurement Director advocated being a leader in procurement because “people follow people”. © Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Public buyers 'can learn from charity sector'

1 May 2019

Public sector buyers can learn from the different procurement methods the charity sector uses, according to the National Trust.

Claire Smart, procurement director of the National Trust, recommended looking beyond enforced rules and regulations and cash flow, as leadership and other methods of persuasion can also be drivers of effective procurement.

Speaking to delegates at Procurex National in Birmingham, Smart advocated being a leader in procurement because “people follow people”.

“If you don’t have the rules to fall behind, then we have to be people that the organisation wants to follow. What we need to see in procurement teams is that they’re being leaders in the organisation and that you’re invested and confident in your team.”

She said the charity sector lacked a “safety net”, as Office of the Journal of European Union (OJEU) rules are not applicable, and this meant procurement professionals have to be more assertive and responsible in order to hold up the organisation’s credibility and reputation.

“We need to be steering the organisation around the obstacles, we need to make sure we are horizon scanning for things like Brexit, and the Modern Slavery Act. We need to make sure we are protecting our reputation.”

Smart also recommended communication with other departments as this will help the organisation function better overall. “One thing we need to do is start finding out about other people’s business, not [just] telling them ours, because everyone’s business is intermingled in the organisation.”

While procurement professionals often have to prioritise cost savings, Smart warns against getting trapped in the “savings eclipse”, because the prioritisation of cashable savings may not necessarily deliver growth, and could instead overshadow implementing improvements.

”If we’re just focusing on cashable savings we’re missing the huge prize that good, professional, strategic procurement can deliver.”

Smart referred to an occasion when she was working as a buyer in social care and an enquiry into social care funding was taking place, triggered by the death of a elderly woman: “We were sitting in that enquiry, watching our social workers crying, sitting with the brother of the lady that died. People are very invested, they’re not going to be worried about saving 5p off a pen, they are going to be worried about some bigger issues, these big strategic things that procurement deliver.”

However, working outside the parameters of OJEU does have its downside, said Smart, as without its rules and scrutiny, in-depth planning and detailed specifications are not held to account.

“People do a lot of negotiating because they haven’t specified their requirements first. I think without the rules we’re losing something.”

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