Mike Acheson hangs up his procurement hat after 30 years (part 1)

One consequence of the headcount reductions in the public sector is that we’re seeing a huge loss of procurement knowledge and experience. While that might lead to opportunities for younger, ambitious, up and coming professionals, it does have a downside as organisations are seeing a lot of wisdom and knowledge disappearing out of the door.

Another benefit though is that it gives me the excuse to take old friends to the pub, buy them a drink, and get some honest views on what is going on in public procurement. So in the first of what may be a series over the next months, I interviewed Mike Acheson recently.

I consider him to be one of our unsung heroes of our profession. He’s just not the sort of personality to enter awards, boast of his exploits, and this is probably the first time he’s been interviewed for a publication in his 30 years in procurement! (He’s been a civil servant for almost 40 years). Yet he was, for instance, the first head of procurement in Government to take sustainable procurement seriously, and he’s been committed to educating and training staff – and users of procurement – for many years.

Mike started in the Property Services Agency, then Crown Suppliers  and The Buying Agency (see our separate post on the full-circle nature of UK public collaborative buying organisations). He also went through various “machinery of Government” changes, as he worked for Departments that kept changing their name and remit! Department of Environment, then Environment Transport and the Regions, then after that Department split, he ended up as Head of Procurement in the Department for Transport.

So Mike, how did you get into procurement?

I joined the civil service in 1972, then in 1979 I passed an HEO selection board and got the job of Heating Oil buyer in the Property Services Agency, which was part of the Department of Environment. We were the biggest buyers in Europe – all government departments and the NHS had to take their supply from us at that time. That got gradually untied over time (see our previous post for the history).

That's a long time in procurement! What do you consider your biggest achievement?

I'm still pleased about some individual contracts I've worked on – the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme where we worked closely with policy colleagues to re-structure the market. Or the contracts for shatter proof glass when I was in the PSA. We had to create a market and a competitive position as buyers, while making sure the product actually did what it said it would. It was the time of IRA bombings of government offices and in coming up with better products and suppliers we were doing something really useful as well as spending money sensibly.

You were a pioneer in “sustainable procurement” weren't you?

I was Head of Procurement in the Department of Environment, so I worked with Treasury to produce the first procurement policy document on sustainable procurement. That was back in 2000. But I was genuinely interested in it, so I was a bit of an evangelist  .We went on to do things like leading on the first government framework for recycled paper.

(Editor's note – I remember Acheson giving me a hard time for not using recycled paper, printing single sided and using plastic covers when I presented a consulting proposal to him in about 2002! It was a shock because nobody else was raising those issues at the time).

More from Mike tomorrow...

First Voice

  1. Gordon Murray:

    Good luck Mike. You’ll be missed.

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