Public sector procurement departments should prepare to step into the spotlight in the coming months, as the current financial and political climate increasingly forces public bodies to justify expenditure and manage diminishing budgets.
But what lies in store for commissioning? Can it continue as a separate discipline? Surely it’s strategic procurement by another name?
Through the sensitive application of appropriate techniques, it has been demonstrated that cost reduction and service improvement are not mutually exclusive. Many organisations no longer have the budget to support separate commissioning and procurement teams and are looking to integrate functions.
Aside from possible cost savings achieved by removing duplication, other benefits of this would be the opportunities to centralise strategies, rationalise approaches and harness buying power. Ironically, perhaps the very reason for the growth of commissioning departments was that the requisite skills and knowledge were lacking in procurement teams. So any merging of functions must be carefully managed to ensure these commissioning specialisms are retained and beneficial relationships protected.
At a time when organisations are more inclined to consider outsourcing service delivery, it is essential that the right mix of skills and knowledge is available within any procurement team. Learning and development budgets are being squeezed and there is a risk that procurement and commissioning professionals will be required to take on increasingly complex projects without having access to the training necessary to support this. Greater reliance on mentoring and skills transfer means it is imperative that staff recognise and appreciate each other’s specialisms. Perhaps it is in market knowledge and understanding of cost levers where the greatest differences lie, and any team would be strengthened rather than hindered by sharing this resource.
The procurement versus commissioning debate will no doubt continue, but change is coming and the pace is likely to be swift. If public procurement departments are to rise to the challenge and become key players in a more streamlined, cost-conscious public sector, they need to capitalise on the opportunities that integration and cohesion could bring, or they might be next on the outsourcing agenda.