London Universities Purchasing Consortium Conference – an interesting time for the sector

The London Universities Purchasing Consortium (LUPC) held their first member conference last week, and I had the pleasure of speaking at the event. It was well attended (around 150 delegates registered), supported by a range of suppliers in the exhibition rooms, and very well organised.

Professor Nick Petford, the Chair of Procurement UK, was the keynote speaker. Procurement UK has been set up to act as a steering group for the development of procurement across the sector, and implementation of the Diamond Review into university procurement. Petford is Vice Chancellor of Northampton University, and a Vulcanologist by trade – and no, that’s nothing to do with Star Trek! (Volcanoes, which I’m sure you knew).  He spoke very clearly about the value and importance of procurement, and it was good to see someone at his level who clearly “gets” procurement.

As does Marcus McDonald (Director of Finance and Estates, Royal College of Music), who also chairs the LUPC Board. He talks about the savings contribution that procurement can make in terms of Grand Pianos – “If procurement can save £1 million this year, that’s another 20 grand pianos I can buy”!  OK, he may not actually buy 20, but there’s a useful message there about expressing procurement’s contribution in a manner that is meaningful to the business.

University procurement faces many of the challenges common across the public sector, and indeed the private sector in some cases. Obviously, collaboration was high on the agenda, given that is the raison d’être of LUPC. The Diamond report set a target of 30% of university procurement spend being collaborative (in some sense) by 2016. The data suggests the sector is currently at just over 10%, although that conceals huge variances, from institutions who already hit the 30%,  to those who clearly just don’t “do” collaboration.

There was also discussion around how procurement people and functions can extend their influence into areas such as Property and IT, where functional managers sometimes defend their territory vigorously. I made the point that collaboration won’t work if it is just the procurement people talking – you have to get the budget holders / experts lined up behind the effort too.

There is also the very interesting issue of whether at some point Universities may be freed from the constraints of EU procurement regulations, given the percentage of their income that comes from non-government sources. But what would replace the current regulations? We couldn’t just have a free for all, so some alternative policies would need to be put in place.

Coming back to collaboration, there is also some sensitivity around competition. Universities are, to some extent at least, competing with each other. What does that mean for procurement collaboration? The answer seems to be that in terms of most of what is purchased, it is not central to the competitive position – the phrase “collaborate to compete” was used a few times at the event. But it does strike me that there will be some areas where procurement can provide a potential competitive advantage – and in those areas, collaboration will be (rightly) less appropriate.

Anyway, well done to Andy Davies, Laura Compton and the team from LUPC for organising a very successful event, and we’ll follow the progress towards the 30% with interest...

First Voice

  1. Stephen Heard:

    I remember speaking at on of their conferences a few years back during my time at Buying Solutions. My subject was sustainable procurement and the audience included members of the British Antarctica Expedition who were studying climate change. It made for an interesting Q&A session!

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