Helen Mackenzie – a Poem, an Award, and a Procurious Big Ideas Participant

At the recent GO Procurement Awards evening, the prize-winners for the Team of the Year, UK Local Authorities, was Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – the local authority covering the Western Isles of Scotland, about as remote and beautiful as you can find in the UK. The lady who accepted the prize clearly was not Scottish however, and my heart sank a little when she announced she was going to read a poem she had written for the occasion. Embarrassing prize-winner moment I thought.

But no, it was good - you can judge for yourself below. That lady was Helen Mackenzie, the Head of Exchequer Services for the council, whose responsibilities include procurement. I caught up with her last week, both to congratulate her on the win and also to ask why she was taking part in the Procurious Big Ideas Summit on April 30th in London. I was curious though about how she ended up in the Outer Hebrides!

“I come from Cambridge and went to University in Sheffield – but I love Scotland and I just liked the idea of working here,” she says. That was 20 years ago she made the move, so clearly that has not been a decision to regret. How does she feel about winning prizes like the GO Awards?

“I hope we have shown that smaller councils, as well as the larger ones, can achieve procurement performance improvement. We have a third-party spend of about £50 million, which is not huge, but there is such a lot of opportunity not just to look at value, but also to use procurement to help deliver policy in areas like social care.”

Mackenzie’s role covers other areas such as payroll and revenues. But it seems like procurement is high on her priority list.

“I love procurement because there is so much scope to make a difference and help to deliver these wider objectives. We've let an innovative contract with a local firm for providing community meals, for instance, combining the food itself with a community benefit - social interaction from the firm providing the service.”

So how does this relate to the Procurious procurement event?

“I'm clear that we have to get more from our suppliers. Budgets are tight in the public sector of course but we can't achieve what we need purely with adversarial, competitive processes. We need innovation from suppliers, we really need to do things differently and work with suppliers who have ideas about how to achieve that. So I'm hoping the event is part of that discussion on the way forward for procurement - where are we going, and does the profession need to re-orientate itself perhaps”.

It’s a long way to go though, all the way down to London?

“I’m a big user of social media, but it is also good to get together face to face, and for me working in quite an isolated area, it is good to meet people in the flesh who I consider to be thought leaders in the profession. So I'm looking forward to the event”.

Any thoughts on Procurious itself as a new platform?

“It is sometimes hard on LinkedIn to work out who is really adding value, and who is there to sell to us – it is so broad and the discussions can get very drawn out and unfocused. So I hope Procurious is going to be a forum for the procurement profession where we can exchange views and be really engaged in meaningful discussion.”

We’re looking forward to meeting her properly and her contribution on the 30th. She is clearly one of the more impressive and interesting folk around the UK procurement world at the moment, and here as promised is her poem from the GO Awards!

Where there are contracts, may we bring savings;

Where there are logistics, let’s make them lean;

Where there are clauses, let’s include community benefits;

Where there are supply chains, may they be green.

Where there are suppliers, let’s foster innovation;

Where there are workforces, let their treatment be fair;

Where there is excellence, let’s bring on celebrations

As there’s loads of great practice for all of us to share.

 

 

 

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