Collaboration in Public Procurement – New Paper Out Now

When do you think procurement collaboration in the UK public sector first started being considered seriously? OGC? The Buying Agency? A bit earlier? Might it have started 300 years earlier?

We recently announced the publication of our Public Spend Forum research paper, very kindly sponsored by our friends at BravoSolution, and titled simply but accurately; Procurement Collaboration in the UK Public Sector.  The research work was carried out earlier this year, and involved an on-line survey and then a series of structured interviews that we undertook with UK procurement leaders who had experience with collaboration in its various forms.

In the paper we look at the history of collaboration, and our extensive research disclosed a fascinating history. Here is an excerpt from the paper.

Collaboration in UK public procurement goes way back into the mists of time. No doubt Samuel Pepys, in his role with the British Navy in the 1660s, held a meeting in a Southwark Tavern with his counterpart from the Army (but not the Air Force of course). And no doubt they decided that the ale or the muskets needed by the Navy were subtly different from that required by the Army, so procurement collaboration just wouldn’t work”.

OK, we were using our imagination somewhat there, although that scene has the ring of truth to it. But in much more recent years, collaboration really kicked off in a serious way.

"Moving on a few hundred years, to the 1970s, we saw the creation of organisations in the  UK such as the Property Services Agency and then Crown Suppliers, aimed at using government’s spending power to leverage better deals. Later, figures such as Peter Gershon and Peter Levene (in defence) were two private sector big-hitters brought in to bring that supposed discipline and expertise to government spending, and more collaboration tended to be on their menu.

In 1991, the Buying Agency replaces Crown Suppliers. It then became OGC buying solutions after the Gershon review of 2003, then became Buying Solutions in 2009, then the Government Procurement Service, and then today’s Crown Commercial Service. All of these bodies were charged with using central government’s spending power to the advantage of the taxpayer.

In other sectors, the London Universities Purchasing Consortium was founded way back in 1968, whilst local government organisations such as the Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation (founded 1974) sprung up with the aim of achieving similar benefits in their sector. For some years, PASA in the health sector was a good example of collaboration, but in the classic cyclical nature of these things, it was abolished in 2011 and the landscape in that sector became complicated with various regional buying organisations as well as a national NHS Supply Chain organisation".

So, given this complexity and history, when we did this research, we didn’t expect that we could answer every question or “recommend a clear route to a glowing future for public procurement collaboration”. But we thought it would be interesting to look at some of the issues and make some suggestions and recommendations as to what seems to work and what might work better in terms of this issue.

And as we say in the Executive Summary – “there is much good work going on already, and indeed, promoting it more and explaining the benefits of collaboration (which are far from being purely leverage and cost savings) is one of the recommendations”.

You can download the whole paper here, free of charge.

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Voices (3)

  1. Paul Smith:

    Here at YPO we will read the report with interest.
    We can actually trace our history of collaborative buying way beyond the formation of the organisation in its current form in 1974.
    In the office, we have copies of the minutes of the West Riding Elementary Education Sub-Committee (Supplies Sub-Committee) which was responsible for procurement of all schools supplies across West Yorkshire. The earliest dated minutes that we have a copy of are from 2nd November 1915!

    1. Peter Smith:

      Paul, so unless someone can beat 1915 you may win the “longest standing public procurement body in the UK” award! Excellent.

    2. Andy Davies:

      We concede defeat!

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