Spend Matters gets a mention at the CIPS conference

It was the CIPS annual conference last week, which I couldn’t make, but apparently Jason Busch (my business partner and Editor of Spend Matters US) managed to get a mention! In the Q&A after the speech from John Collington (Government CPO), someone asked what he thought of Jason’s comment that “public sector procurement was years behind private sector” or words to that effect.

Apparently Collington remarked that “he would like to meet that Jason Busch” – which:

a. hopefully he will when Jason is over next month and

b. might make an interesting middleweight contest, Collington having greater height and reach but Busch having the advantage of youth and a marathon runner’s stamina....

Seriously though, I want to put Jason’s comments into context. Here is the post I suspect the questioner was referring to, and there are a couple of key points to make. Firstly, Jason wrote this almost exactly a year ago, in October 2010, when he was in the UK for the Spend Matters UK /Europe launch.

And secondly, his views were based on a small sample of discussions with people where – as usual in these cases - the issues and negatives perhaps got more focus than the positives.  A major influence on Jason was also Nigel Smith’s speech to an American Express seminar, at which I also spoke and we reported here.

Nigel had just finished his spell as CEO of the Office of Government Commerce, and he took that opportunity to express some of his frustrations about some issues which had got in his way as he carried out that role, including for instance the lack of decent spend data. That obviously influenced Jason quite strongly in his comments!

So, while I wouldn’t for a moment have expected Collington to have known the comments were a year out of date, if he had, he could have justifiably responded that he wasn’t in his post at that point, and major steps have been made since then in areas such as the centralised procurement initiative, the changes at Buying Solutions / Government Procurement Service, the negotiations with top suppliers... and so on.

That’s not to say some of Jason’s comments don’t still ring true – while actions are in hand, for instance, in terms of getting better data, it’s not an issue that is by any means sorted.  And public procurement beyond Whitehall is still a very mixed picture.

I’d also suggest that the UK is still seen as a leader and innovator in international terms. I don’t believe the US is better certainly – see our recent comments on Chicago for instance, and the President’s initiatives on Federal procurement savings don’t seem to have gone far beyond exhortation and assertion. The success of CIPS in developing countries also I think shows that the UK – public and private sector – is highly regarded as a centre for procurement knowledge and performance.

Anyway, thanks for mentioning us, whoever the questioner was, and let’s see if we can persuade Jason that the UK public sector has made some progress when he’s next over here!  And I hope to buy John Collington a coffee (or a beer) and introduce him properly to Jason. With a neutral referee on hand....

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