LUPC / SUPC Conference – First Impressions and Highlights

Yesterday saw about 300 people assemble on London’s South Bank (well, not actually on the bank, you understand, that might have been damp not to mention dangerous) for the LUPC / SUPC annual customer conference and exhibition. That’s the London Universities and the Southern Universities Purchasing Consortia, not-for-profit professional buying organisations, owned by members, to generate savings and better value through collaborative procurement.  You can read more about them here and here.

We’ve been going to this annual event for about four years now and it does genuinely go from strength to strength. The venue - the Old County Hall on London's South Bank - was an excellent choice, very impressive airy rooms and good AV facilities, great views over the Thames and the London Eye, and everyone commented on its postition and how accessible it is. A sharp contrast to last year, where delegates we spoke to felt that for such a popular event, the rooms were too 'poky' and that such an event merits more space - and that's exactly what they got. Plenty of room for the exhibitors, breakout sessions, rooms to just chill and drink your tea and have more intimate conversations. It worked really well.

For those of you who couldn't attend, or didn't know about the event, here's a quick taste of the day, and we'll have more indepth coverage of some of the presentations next week. But first, a hats off to the caterers: we snooped a bit to hear what people were saying, and the overwhelming opinion was that the food was superb. Served in what we can only describe as similar to the melamine segmented plates that kids used to get their dinners in at school, with sections for each food stuff (heaven help you if a pea rolled up against a fish finger!), however, these were deeper, almost artistically segmented and rather trendy - but they worked beautifully because the food range was diverse and delicious.

Anyway apart from that, the exhibition and sponsorship slots were “sold out” some time in advance, and the day's turnout was excellent. The 300-plus delegates represented about 115 institutes, and the number of supplier firms exhibiting has risen every year, reaching a whopping 61 this year. Walking through the vast array of exhibitors was rather like walking through market stalls (see pics), each one unique with colourful wares on show - it made it all seem more approachable.

LUPC/SUPC will have to think carefully about the venue for next year if attendance continues to grow: one nice lady we met, in professional services procurement for Sussex University (who had previously been an architect - we'd love to hear that transition story) had attended last year and returned this year with five more colleagues! Each came from a different category to find out the latest thinking in their areas, spanning IT to travel, with a view to pooling findings and comparing notes post event - sounds sensible.

We heard from a good range of experts, to name a few: Don Bowman, of LUPC, gave a very well received roundup of how to work most effectively with the consortia, interesting and useful stuff for suppliers (and buyers); we heard that the talk on getting the most out of frameworks from SUPC was standing room only; Tony Byrne from the GLA (Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority) gave an eye-opening account of how they are working to discover more instances of forced labour and unethical practices in the supply chain - a subject close to the hearts of LUPC and SUPC; and a communications specialist from Browning York gave some great takeaways about how procurement can communicate more effectively. The day's presentations were concluded by Dr John Glen or Cranfield University, who gave a factual and rather revealing picture of the ecomony and the factors at play in the world that will change it. More on all of this next week - and we are told that slides will soon be available to download too. 

But we couldn't let our overview of the day slip by without a mention of what delegates referred to as a very well presented and interactive keynote, which happened to come from our very own Peter Smith. He led off the morning covering the outlook for procurement post-Brexit. He didn’t just talk about public procurement actually – he got into some quite philosophical discussions about the sort of country we want the UK to be, and how procurement (including private and public sectors) might both respond to that and help shape the new approach, which complemented nicely John's concluding speech - a harmonious top and tail to the day (not sure that was planned though!). We’ll have more on Peter's session next week too.

So all in all an exceedingly worthwhile day, rounded off with some excellent live music, freely flowing beverages at the bar (sponsored by legal services provider Veale Wasbrough Vizards) and an interesting talk from Eleanor M Jackson, a London Blue Badge Guide, with tales of the long history of the Thames and its bridges (some of LUPC director Andy Davies influence in choice of topic we felt) - both enlightening and amusing.

Tune in next week for a deeper look at some of the topics. And finally a quick nod to the excellent musicians -

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