“A Practical Guide To Public Procurement” – Abby Semple’s Impressive New Book

We’ve been a bit slow in reviewing a number of new procurement-related books in recent weeks, mainly because of the conference season giving us plenty of places to go and other things to write about. So let’s remedy that this week with three short reviews, and in a couple of cases at least we will follow up with longer commentary and perhaps some excerpts from the publications in question.

We will start today with one for all you public sector procurement practitioners, consultants, lawyers and geeks (Colin Maund, we mean you!) “A Practical Guide To Public Procurement” by Abby Semple is published by the Oxford University Press at the somewhat eye-watering price of £95.

But bear in mind, this is a serious academic and reference work, not a book that many will buy as a Christmas present for Granny or indeed their other half, even if their partner is a government procurement executive. It is aimed very much at the organisational or library buyer, and as such, it is a book that should be bought by pretty much every public sector contracting authority, as well as consultants, lawyers and any major supplier to the public sector who needs to understand how the EU process and regulations should work and sometimes do work.

Semple speaking in Cardiff

Semple speaking in Cardiff recently

Semple is a relatively young Trinity College Dublin law graduate (30-ish) who over the past seven years has worked as a consultant for Achilles in Ireland and as an interim and consultant for various organisations. (I only mention her age to stress our admiration of the understanding she clearly has of the minutiae of EU regulations). She is also active on the academic and speaking circuit around Europe -she gave a very good speech at the ICPS Cardiff event, which we reported on here.

This is her first book, and deserves to be a standard reference work concerning the new directives, which were published in November 2014. I simply do not know how she has managed to produce this in the time available; 250 pages of commentary and advice on the new EU regulations, all very well referenced with case law and other publications, as well as her own judgement and interpretation.

I have not read every word, I confess, but from the Preface which uses the British Library (where she did much of the writing, and one of my favourite haunts) to illustrate some key public procurement issues, to the section on Remedies, which gives an invaluable and very accessible summary of case law, this is an excellent addition to the public procurement body of knowledge.

My only criticism comes when she moves away from the regulations into best practice territory; for instance, she describes a method of evaluating prices in bids and converting those into numerical scores that I and a number of others believe is flawed. But that is a small point set alongside the positives.

Clearly, a book about legal directives is not going to be a light read, but Semple manages to keep it pretty much as readable as you possibly could, without losing the rigour of the analysis. All in all, it is an extremely impressive achievement, and I suspect Semple has the potential to become an influential figure in European public procurement for many years to come if she manages her career properly (the Millennial Generation’s Sue Arrowsmith perhaps)?

You can buy the book here; and if you are interested enough in public procurement to get this far, you probably should! And we will feature a longer and more detailed review on our Public Spend Matters Europe site shortly.

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