'Always question the value of collaboration'

Collaboration should only be used in cases where it can add value, the top buyer at the North East Procurement Organisation (NEPO) has said.

Steven Sinclair, head of procurement at NEPO, a joint procurement body through which member authorities spend more than £2.45bn annually, said he always questions the value of every collaboration the organisation works on.

“Every single thing that we do we challenge ourselves, ‘Is this going to achieve benefits through collaborative procurement?’ If it’s not, then don’t do it,” he said.

“One size does not necessarily fit all and it’s about using collaboration where it’s most appropriate.”

He added: “But if it [collaboration] is going to be done then let’s unlock the barriers, use the different levels of governance to make that happen.”

Speaking at the Procurex South conference last week, Sinclair said in the North East there were “three baskets” when it came to collaboration. The first is local procurements where collaboration does not make sense, usually because the procuring authority has a unique requirement. “There’s the acceptance that many things do sit better locally, there isn’t a benefit to collaborating,” he said.

Secondly there are regional projects, where NEPO has collaborated to provide a number of solutions.

Finally there are national level collaborations, said Sinclair. “Things may be better delivered nationally, at which point we can be the gateway for that. We can showcase what the national arrangements are, we can help influence national arrangements and bring our local buying power into that national arrangement,” he said.

Sinclair also said there were two main types of collaboration: where buyers come together to “harness buying power”, and where buyers work together to ensure efforts aren’t duplicated.

“There’s collaboration in terms of reusing what’s already out there. There is space for different solutions which do complement each other, maybe work in the same space, but let’s not duplicate what’s already out there.”

NEPO’s work with 11 local authorities, as well as its many associate members, gives the organisation a better understanding of what is happening in the public sector, said Sinclair. “Maybe local authorities are ahead of the curve on those areas, maybe they’re behind the curve. But by speaking and collaborating with our public sector counterparts it gives us a far more rounded view of the world.

“That goes into delivering the best solutions and the best rounded collaboration opportunities.”

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