CIPS syllabus changes – responses from public sector procurement

We featured yesterday some of the changes to the CIPS (Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply) education ladder and syllabus. One obvious development is the end of various UK public sector specific modules.

I was initially surprised at this, as the UK public sector has been a big source of students for CIPS for many, many years. I also picked up some discontent about this from a couple of senior people in public procurement, so we asked CIPS for more background to the decision, which they provided very quickly and in some detail – thanks for that!

They explained that many public sector people were involved in the consultation including “a member of the Efficiency Reform Group from the UK Cabinet Office.  These stakeholders were also represented on our ‘Expert Panel’ which was one of the stages of the syllabus ‘sign off’ process”.

What’s more, there doesn’t appear to be the demand that I thought there was for these modules:

“ The steer from the public sector group was very clear, that dedicated Public Sector units were not required. This view seems to be borne out by the very poor examination numbers we have had for the four units over the last five years. In fact, the largest group of Public Sector students that chose these units were in fact international students from Sub‐Sahara Africa who are predominately working in the police force. It appears that a large number of UK Public Sector students made a conscious decision not to choose these optional units”.

That may also be because the number of recruits into UK public sector procurement has fallen in the last 2 or 3 years of course. So it looks like this may be a more sensible decision than I thought, even if at first sight surprising. CIPS did also tell us that,

 “in the lower levels these principles (public sector legislation etc.)  are now introduced much earlier. Furthermore, the design of the Advanced Diploma (L5) and the Professional Diploma (L6) does allow the development of sector specific optional units should the need or desire arise”.

I asked the UK Cabinet Office for their views – and they re-inforced the CIPS line.

Procurement should always be focused on achieving the best commercial outcome, regardless of what sector you are buying in, public or private. The changes to CIPS’s procurement syllabus will support this and help the public sector to not place too much emphasis on following a process.

CIPS consulted widely with government departments including the Cabinet Office, and where appropriate will continue to keep their syllabus under review to incorporate any need from public sector stakeholders in the future.”

That’s all fine and I largely agree – and I suspect I hear the voice of the Minister, Francis Maude here, talking of the “best commercial outcome”.  But whilst of course we all want to see public procurement executed in a commercial manner, I can’t help thinking that there are still some specific public sector points that folk need to understand. There is a process, unless we decide to just ignore the EU (and I’d probably support that).  We’ll see – but back to the syllabus specifics, let’s face it, if no-one was doing these modules, they’re not a great loss anyway!

There is still the issue of the discontent I picked up – perhaps there is still some communication to do, or it may be that in large public sector organisations it was simply impossible for CIPS to consult everybody who has an interest.

Anyway, comments on all of this (not just that final point) very welcome, from students, employers of CIPS qualified people, and anyone else with an interest.

Comments

  • Dan:

    I don’t think the public sector modules will be greatly missed. Most public procurement bods will be more interested in knowing how the private sector carries out its procurement and adopting those skills and knowledge where necessary. Most people already in the public sector will be more aware of how it works than is contained the course texts; I personally found the detail on the procurement regulations left a lot to be desired! There will be some people who found them useful, but I would imagine that these will be too few in number to make it worthwhile supporting those modules.

  • Trevor Black:

    Wow!! Someone in government has actually acknowledged that the “best commercial outcome” is what procurement is all about. The profession in the public sector has in my view has been damaged significantly (partly due to EU regs) as it is regarded as some mindless bureaucratic process rather than applying commercial principles. It also explains the problems that many face when moving from the public to the private sector and having to make strategic commercial decisions. Perhaps we can build on this and in the future anyone that is CIPS qualified will be regarded as having rounded commercial skills as opposed to being regarded as just process driven administrators.

  • Sue Fleming:

    I feel public sector procurement gets a lot of bad press without really understanding the nature of the beast and the restrictions it has to adhere to. Whether EU regulations are mindless and bureaucratic is not for me to say. Whilst it is a long process there are areas within that allow it to be speeded up, for example in emergencies. Public procurement professionals need to be anything but bureaucratic and have to understand both public and private issues, for example negotiation in supplier relationships. Although not competition driven they do have to get the best value for the money they have been given from the public purse. Year on year budgets go down and more has to be done with less resources. With terrorism on the increase a bigger chunk of these dwindling budgets has to be spent on security. I have more than 12 year’s practitioner experience in public sector professional procurement and well as around 10 year’s academic experience lecturing on private sector CIPS modules. Whilst the public sector is flattening their hierarchy to speed up decision making, etc., I heard just this week that some private sector enterprises might have 8-10 levels in theirs. I would add that buying anything from buildings, helicopters, security systems fencing & guarding, armoured protected vehicles, specialist training for those working in high risk areas, to buying furniture, procuring and managing global IT and Utility provision network, travel (including emergency contingencies), accommodation and conferences, stores, maintenance, facilities and stationery, to name but a few – not forgetting all those who volunteered to support a very successful 2012 games which included 900 supplier contracts (phew!), does prove the public sector is a strategic procurement function with commercial savvy. I concur there is more work to do but equally so, I learn from my many private sector students. True there are administrators who work on the P2P data bases processing which creates a firm basis for effectiveness and conformity, and equally so those who buy commodities and are strategic procurement professionals with both not-for-profit and commercial experience.

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