Where’s your sense of adventure?

10 May 2011
The feature “Blaze a trail for enterprise” (SM, March 2011) and the government initiatives to transform public sector and central government purchasing struck a welcome chord with me. After many years in private sector procurement I had always believed our role was to exercise our skills and talents in acquiring goods and services and negotiating best value for money. This was not accomplished by being procedural and risk averse and I would often use small local suppliers who produced first‑class products on time and at competitive prices. I now work with a small national career consultancy that helps redundant workers find new careers and am increasingly frustrated by our inability to get past the first hurdle in competing for public contracts. The tender invitations we receive contain every conceivable obstruction to ensure that only suppliers with vast numbers of staff and policy writers will be capable of ticking all the boxes and competing for the business. A recent invitation required us to provide an environmental impact report, significant employer’s liability, a mandatory policy on bullying in the workplace, transfer of all our IRP, recruitment, training and promotional manuals all re-written to conform to the authorities strict publishing criteria, demonstrable evidence of employing a diverse workforce and strict adherence to a number of their internal policies. Now if this isn’t utter nonsense, I don’t know what is. Many public procurement teams actually believe they are serving their authorities’ best interests by expecting every potential supplier to complete such tenders. In the process they are excluding perfectly competent but small suppliers and building in quite unnecessary costs. What’s missing is the ability to penetrate beneath the current politically correct approach and for the buyers to be more adventurous and perceptive. I’m not suggesting we abandon our professionalism or take ill-judged risks, but maybe there is scope for realising that many tasks can be equally well performed by suppliers free of the burdens of cumbersome corporate strictures and massive overheads – embracing the government’s initiative of acquiring more for less. Isn’t that the hallmark of the true professional buyer anyway, exercising commercial judgment and flair and being judged on their results?
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