LGA National Procurement Strategy – some good ideas but no implementation plan?

We made some initial comments on the LGA National Procurement strategy recently, being a little sarcastic about the “national champion” and his assertion that local government was better at procurement than any other part of government. But today let’s just look at the detail of the strategy, which contains four key themes within its pages.

1. Making savings: through category management, collaboration, better contract, risk, demand and performance management .

2. Supporting local economies: by including economic, environmental and social value criteria in all contracts, and improving access for SMEs and VCSEs (voluntary, community and social enterprises).

3. Leadership: speaking with a single cohesive voice, commitment from the top in each Authority, and seeing procurement “as part of a strategic commissioning cycle”.

4. Modernising Procurement: contributing to commercialisation ad income generation, promoting supplier innovation, adopting e-procurement (in particular e-invoicing) and taking advantage of the new EU directives.

There is very little in the document that doesn’t make sense at first reading, and these high level themes are taken down into fairly detailed recommendations for different types of authority and PBOs (professional buying organisations) who are also key players in this. Much of the material is sensible and if you came to this cold, you might well be impressed.

However, as we pointed out before, there are some odd omissions. The lack of any mention of social care is the most glaring, the single biggest spend area for local government. Is that because it is seen as “commissioning” and therefore not in scope for procurement? We asked the LGA, who told us that they believe construction is the biggest spend area. We're still not sure about that, but I am sure social care is bigger than the other two categories that get a special mention, IT and energy, so that remains a bit of a mystery.

But the bigger problem for me is that this is not the first time we’ve had a strategy for local government procurement. We have had many over the years (2003 and 2008 versions for a start). Now that is not in itself a reason to criticise this one, but it does raise the vital question – how will the decent ideas in here be implemented?

Because that has been the problem in the past. It has not been a shortage of good ideas or a sensible vision for where procurement should be going. The problems have come in the implementation, and those issues are as relevant as ever now;

  • Is there a clear plan and will it be delivered using appropriate project and programme management disciplines and techniques?
  • Are there enough resources with the right skills to achieve the goals?
  • How do we get councils of different political persuasions to work together (particularly now, as so many have outsourced much of their procurement to third parties)?
  • What technology and systems are needed in order to benefit from data sharing and benchmarking across the sector?
  • How do we get senior staff – outside procurement – to become more commercially aware and informed?
  • How do we measure success?

And this report is silent really when it comes to any of those implementation issues. It might be argued that a strategy shouldn’t be concerned about implementation – that is the role of a “plan”.  We asked the LGA about follw up and what we've managed to get from them so far is this:

"We are continuing to work on the themes of the strategy and NAG  (the national advisory group) will be discussing the plan at our meeting in September".

That's fine - but we need to see this turned into a plan quickly or this report will, like many others, simply prove to be tomorrow's (metaphorical) fish and chip wrapper.

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First Voice

  1. Paul Smith:

    Peter – You are right, it clearly lacks an implementation plan but you need to ask why and what happens now.

    Local Government is, by nature, local and independent. That is what we are voting for when we elect a local councillor. Someone to act on our behalf on a local basis.

    Therefore Local Government is naturally sceptical of central planning and being ‘told what to do’.

    Implementation of this excellent strategy will be decided locally. A big central plan would not have been received well.

    For example, here at YPO, we have an action plan to meet the recommendations for PBOs in the strategy and I am sure this will be replicated in local authorities and PBOs across the UK.

    These action plans will all implement the strategy in slightly different ways to meet local needs. But, done right, at a national level this will add up to a major change in local government procurement.

    If your local council isn’t on-board and implementing the recommendations then I suggest talking to your local councillor!

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