Rising to the challenge

21 March 2012
Renata Towlson is senior buyer (best practice) at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS TrustI had the pleasure to attend the second day of Procurex National in Birmingham, at which the Rt Hon Francis Maude MP set the scene for the next few years in public sector procurement. And what a scene he set. A powerful speaker with a lot of charisma, he sounded like he meant business in more than a figure-of-speech way. Maude wants us to play a vital role in changing public sector culture and supplies signposts and tools to help. Signposts are: competition inclusive of SMEs, transactional procurement replaced by relationship building, sustainability, efficiency and the social value bill. The tools are: a simplified PQQ process, an increased number of open procedures, supplier engagement prior to the procurement process, use of the Prior Information Notice (PIN) when advertising in the OJEU and, therefore, better planning and forecasting. And all of it underpinned with robust data and reporting systems. I feel inspired, but can already hear my peers saying how difficult they believe this might be in practice. Simplified PQQs can lead to increased risks when tendering within the NHS landscape. And taking into consideration the social value bill’s aspirations might cause all sorts of difficulties that we cannot even envisage yet and possibly add commercial cost to offers. Sustainability might be a proven innovation driver (see for example, Dr Elvira Uyarra, University of Manchester - The Use of Public Sector Procurement to Support Innovation and Economic Growth) but evaluation of any element of sustainability, whether environmental, economical or social, is not easy and definitely not straightforward. New tools are required and everyday intellectual effort needed. It will not be easy to be creative and courageous after years of following strict, often misunderstood, procurement processes. The time has come to embrace the uncomfortable social aspects of any new commercial activity and decisively respond to Maude’s call for public procurement power to generate social value and economic development. And what I like the most is the fact that nobody is giving us an algorithm of how this should be done. Let’s make it happen.
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