Common Values

5 January 2010
For those of us in public sector procurement, the new year poses enormous challenges as the government tries to balance the books. Now, more than ever, organisations will look to buyers to work their magic and deliver cash savings.The language is no longer one of efficiency, but one of cold, hard cash, standardisation and collective buying power – in other words, common sense. How many times do we in procurement bend to the whim of senior management to customise a procurement at extraordinary cost rather than buy a standard product? I cannot describe my disbelief when dealing, in a past life, with a director who refused to use the corporate travel contract because he “needed” a bathrobe and banana in his hotel room, which were not on the allowed list of extras. When it came to the expenses of his own staff, going “off contract” meant disciplinary action. Yet, when 9/11 happened he was grateful to be able to locate all of his staff around the world through our travel provider. I’m sure most of us have similar experiences. But for me, the difference between common sense prevailing and personal preference taking over is the voice procurement has at the top table. The white paper on policing released last month “will make the police more accountable to the public and deliver significant cost savings by working better in partnership, improving efficiency and standardising procurement”. But what does this mean in practice? It means acceleration, support and validation of the work that police forces have already started. Collaboration and a common-sense approach to regional and national procurement is already there in areas such as fleet, forensics and body armour. However, this has been very much on a volunteer basis. It has taken an economic crisis to wake everyone else up to the benefits collaborative procurement can bring to policing. This does not mean, however, that one size fits all. There are genuine operational needs for customisation within policing. Forces will be at different stages in their current contractual relationships and we aren’t all dealing with a blank page. The challenge is balancing operational need with personal preference, developing a strategic roadmap to identify when collaboration is appropriate and ensuring procurement is involved during the development of a concept or idea rather than as an afterthought. A colleague summarised this nicely at the 2009 national police procurement conference. When we are asked by the customer to buy something that requires significant investment, he challenged us to ask, “Do we need it?” Then, “Has another force got one and can we borrow it?”, “Is there a national or regional contract we can buy one from?” and “Can we club together with other forces and share it?” Only after exhausting all these avenues should we go to market. If collaboration is just common sense, let’s make 2010 the year common sense prevails.
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