Do Elections Impact Procurement? Arguing In Favour of the Motion: No! 

Jason Busch is Spend Matters' co-founder and original contributor, based in Chicago. He is visiting Peter and myself this week in the UK and took time to attend our latest, extremely packed and very enjoyable, Pub Debate. 

I popped across the pond yesterday with a few hours to spare to catch my counterpart's (Peter Smith) latest pub debate that took place at a watering establishment right across the street from the Houses of Parliament. For those who are new to Spend Matters UK pub debates, our model is to follow the Oxbridge debating approach (well, almost) with one person proposing a motion, another opposing and then two additional parties arguing in favor and counter to it. Then audience Q&As follow. And finally, the audience gets to vote their opinion on the topic. To be official, you must always speak or vote with a pint (or other drink) in hand.

Fitting the public sector environs, the topic for this particular debate centred on whether the current election cycle in the UK would not have an impact on public sector procurement. David Smith (CB, FCIPS, ex CPO of DWP, CIPS Past President) led off the debate in favor of the motion by asking the audience the question: how many election cycles did procurement figure into the discussion (tracing his own career through the ages). He answered: two. In 1983 when Margaret Thatcher was running and in 2010 “on the back of austerity” programmes. In other words, not many.

Nigel Clifford (CEO Procserve), arguing on the same side as David, put forth four arguments as to why elections will not change a thing. The first was technology. In his view, technology will change the paradigm without political involvement and to not adopt the latest procurement technology in public sector will be to “seem as outdated as a 70s' cover band” – a nice knock on his debating partner’s hobby.

Secondly, Nigel suggested that the pressure for savings will be relentless regardless of which parties succeed in the general election. Thirdly, he notes, people will “seize hold” and make procurement (and savings) happen as part of their regular jobs in public sector procurement. And finally, Nigel observes that the EU will “drive change” where a Prime Minister cannot – for example, EU procurement directives such as mandatory eInvoicing.

Opposing the motion were Lee Tribe, Procurement Director of the Met Police and Jackie Lacey, MD Chelsea Travel Management.  Lee argued (mostly with his mate and ex-boss at the DWP, David) that EU procurement law has always underpinned buying, and whether we are in, or exit the EU, legislation will have an impact, therefore money/finance, therefore procurement. The country needs to save money, so whoever sits in Downing Street will necessarily give more consideration to procurement. Jackie came at it from a transport angle (which was deemed unfair as she actually brought paperwork with her with facts, and talked about real policies!). She argued that buying transport (like that extra runway and HS2) is paramount to keeping businesses and therefore revenue in the country. And that the next government will take note because of the huge spend and therefore impact on procurement.

David and Nigel ended up arguing the winning side of the debate and good cheer and banter was had by all.

Which reminds me: why don’t we ever do this in the US? No doubt, we should.


Peter chaired the debate, so no doubt we will have more on the 7-minute speeches and the Q&As that followed them in the coming days.


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