Mike Acheson hangs up his procurement hat after 30 years (part 2)

Here's part 2 of our interview with Mike Acheson, 30 year veteran of government procurement...

Has public procurement improved in the time you’ve been involved?

Definitely, yes. It is generally much more professional, and much more highly regarded by senior management. And we're covering a far wider range of goods and services then we did when I first came into the profession.

What's driven that change?

I reckon compulsory competitive tendering and market testing were what first put us on the map – they took the focus away from just buying goods and into complex services, outsourcing and so on. That was a big step forward. So now we have a lot more engagement of non-procurement people in what we’re doing which is usually a good thing. Even things like the Remedies Directive - which has some negatives - has made non-procurement people aware of the need to get things right! And I think on balance the greater focus on transparency – things like Freedom of Information - have also put us in the spotlight and made us get better at what we're doing.

Any negatives?

I suppose the constant push to do more with less has increased the pressure. We're going through another wave of that at the moment of course.

Have you enjoyed working with politicians over the years?

Well, they just vary. I don't think there's a trend over time, or between different parties even, they’re not better or worse than they used to be – we thought Andrew Adonis was excellent in the last Government for instance. It's just that some are supportive and “get” procurement, some don't.

What do you think of the Whitehall collaborative buying initiative?

It makes sense – that's another positive for me over the years, more openness to collaboration. And I think John Collington and his team are doing a good job. They've got that political support which is vital. But they'll have to put deals in place that Departments want to use and really recognise different needs - as well as using that combined buying power. And they'll have to make sure they're getting ongoing good deals – not just one-offs. They could use mechanisms like regular price indexation, or overlapping contracts, as we did back in the PSA on some fuel contracts, that sort of thing. But it looks like a good start.

Anything you would do differently or like to see happening that isn't?

We're still not seeing movement of good people between Departments – we've been talking about that for as long as I've been around in government procurement! It would be a good way of keeping good people engaged as well as transferring best practice.

So what are you doing next?Just putting your feet up?

No, I want to stay involved. I’m hoping to run some training events – I've always enjoyed that aspect of my jobs, and I've had some interest from a couple of well known players in our field. So I'm not intending to disappear just yet!

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