London public procurement needs to raise its profile

12 July 2017

UK public sector procurers need to raise their profiles and push for investment or risk being underfunded by local authorities, according to a procurement leader.

Speaking exclusively to SM, Dave Levy, newly appointed chair of the London Heads of Procurement Network (LHOPN), said investment into public procurement by London authorities had been reactionary rather than proactive over the last few years.

“You tend to see these things go in cycles and usually prompted by something going horribly wrong, then the need to do procurement right and then they’ll invest and after some work has been done, you’ll see it slightly dip and you’ll have to make your case again,” he said.

“I think we’re going through a cycle now where across London you’re seeing some pockets of expertise and good resources and authorities are moving forward on the procurement front but equally you’re seeing pockets of functions that are declining in numbers and that may be reflected in how they are perceived in their authorities." 

Public scrutiny over the public procurement process and the local authorities who have control over them have been heightened following the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in London, largely blamed on flammable cladding lining the outside walls.

The disaster raised questions over how local government manages its larger contracts and the relationship between councils and their suppliers.

Levy said part of the challenge for the procurement community was to change the perception that public procurement was a passive administrative function.

“Often press coverage is negative and makes easy reading—how often do we hear that the government believes they can reduce public spending by better procurement?” he said.

“These sorts of statements are unhelpful and suggest that there is a lot of waste.” 

Levy suggested to resolve the perception and persuade local authorities to invest more into the function, procurement professionals had to demonstrate they could play a bigger role in delivering cost-effective services first.

“We have to demonstrate to our respective organisations that we are more than just administrative and regulatory procurement police and that procurement is part of the solution to being able to maintain key services,” he said.

He added that getting commercially-minded procurement practitioners engaged early enough in project lifecycles to shape the direction of those projects would be a good starting point. 

“Effective governance can help here by ensuring that procurement is engaged at the initial stages and similarly where a chief procurement officer is part of the organisation’s senior management team. That is a sign of a mature organisation which takes procurement seriously,” he said. 

“However, such status is not a given and we have to earn our place at the top table by delivering results.” 

The LHOPN brings together senior procurement officers from across London to provide strategic and operational advice and guidance to the London Procurement Strategy Board (LPSB).

The LPSB is made from the heads of procurement and senior officers from across the 32 London boroughs and the City of London.

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