Managing Public Sector Procurement conference – innovation on the agenda

Last week saw the “Managing Public Sector Procurement – driving innovation” conference at the Barbican. It was organised by Public Service Events, and ably chaired by Colin Cram (who also played a large role in getting the impressive speaker list together).

Given the hard times we’re in and the pressure procurement folk are under, it was pretty well attended -  certainly 100 plus people there, and they were unusually engaged I thought for such events. Very few disappeared before the end, for instance, and there were good questions and comments in the sessions I attended.

Jon Hughes led off with a session around his report (which we’ve featured in some detail here). Jon is an excellent presenter – I thought he was holding back a little, probably trying to tread a careful path between criticism of public procurement and encouragement to the audience! But he’s never less than interesting and thought provoking. David Shields then gave a content and fact-packed presentation around the changes he’s making at Government Procurement Service. Ignoring the procurement issues for a moment, they’re undertaking what is an impressive change programme, with  everything from office re-location to total revamp of how they measure customer satisfaction.

Mario Varela of the London Procurement Programme then spoke very honestly about the state of health service procurement. There are certainly some successes, with positive collaboration between London trusts a good example, but he also pointed out the complexity of the landscape. The day of the event we heard of more outsourcing going on in the sector, and I still worry about a lack of clear national procurement strategy for the health system. But Varela is one of the people who give you some hope that procurement could still get its act together in this sector.

In the afternoon, I made a small contribution to David Smith’s (Department of Work and Pensions Commercial Director) session. He covered the overall Cabinet Office procurement programme, then (after I’d introduced it) his CIPS Presidential initiative. As we’ve mentioned previously, it is around getting people excited about procurement and into the profession, whether that is youngsters or more mature professionals from other areas of business.

If you get the chance to hear him speak, do take it – he has that rare ability amongst speakers to be informative, inspiring and amusing, which puts him up there with Jon Hughes and Dr Dick Russill in my “top procurement speakers of all time” list.

Smith also introduced me to his Apprentice – no, he hasn’t moved into a tower block in order to shout at slick wannabee business people!  In the world outside reality TV, the Department of Work and Pensions is encouraging organisations to take on apprentices, so procurement in DWP is doing just that.

It was good therefore to have a brief chat with Paulsha Anderson - Mr Smith's apprentice.  She is finding the whole experience of work very useful - "I'm learning something new every day".  But she says it’s “too soon” to say whether she wants to pursue a career in procurement, although she is enjoying being part of the team. I guess that just shows we have to work at making ours an enticing prospect for youngsters – it won’t just happen!

The final presentation I saw was from Jakob Edler, Professor of Innovation Policy & Strategy, Manchester Business School. He is leading research around procurement of innovation (not “innovative procurement methods” but “how to procure innovative products / services”). They’re getting some interesting findings from the research, and we’ll take a more detailed look at that shortly.

I couldn’t stay for the last sessions – I was disappointed not to catch up with Sally Collier in particular and get her exciting update on public procurement policy (no, really, I like that stuff..)

The Barbican is a bit of an odd venue – a fair bit of wandering around to find break out rooms and so on- but lunch was excellent! The sponsors were a bit of a mixture too, ranging through law firms, technology providers (in-tend, QlikView) to British Gas. But all in all, a pretty successful event for everyone I would judge.

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