LUPC and SUPC Conference – Brexit, Dickens, Slavery and Collaboration

The development of the university purchasing consortia has been one of the success stories of public sector collaboration. Not only do they individually support their members, but they actually work together pretty well, and also have a constructive relationship in the main with Crown Commercial Service for national level contracts. More collaboration was on display yesterday as two of the major consortium (LUPC and SUPC) held their first joint conference, with over 200 professionals getting together in the somewhat maze-like Mary Ward House in London for the day to talk about "Collaboration in Action".

The Grade 1 listed venue in Bloomsbury has a fascinating background - if you are interested in architecture or history it is worth digging into the building and the founder further. She was a leader of the "anti-suffrage" movement in Victorian times. Despite being a successful author in her own right, a notable philanthropist with a strong social conscience, and an innovator in education and welfare, she wrote that women could not solve “constitutional, legal, financial, military, and international problems”. I guess that just shows that good, well-meaning people can still get on the wrong side of historically important arguments.

Anyway, Marc Day, professor at Henley Business School and an adviser to consulting firm Future Purchasing, kicked off, talking about collaboration and the value it can drive. He highlighted the massive gap between the potential value from supplier relationships and what most organisations achieve. There is still too much focus on cost reduction and savings targets, whilst the main opportunity comes from better collaboration with strategic suppliers. The main challenge to this is the domination of price over value. This prevents the partners doing more in terms of collaboration and the relationship. Skills also comes into play -  40% of procurement professionals have never received any soft skills training.

He got delegates to complete a matrix with ten attributes of collaboration, and rate their own organisation's maturity on a defined 1-10 scale. He linked some of the issues to category management, quoting from the excellent Future Purchasing annual survey on the topic. Apparently, the public sector is better than average at CatMan, perhaps not the finding we would have expected! He also quoted from the work by John Henke that we have featured here, which shows the value of strong relationships based on a long-term research project in the automotive sector.

LUPC speechThere were other sessions on responsible procurement from Transport for London, on Modern Slavery and of course the session I was involved with. David Hansom from law firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards and I looked at the effect of a potential Brexit on public procurement. That caused a spirited debate, and a final vote that showed a big majority in the room who think that Brexit would have negative implications for public procurement rather than positive. We plan to come back to those three sessions in more detail soon - we think they were all genuinely informative as well as interesting for many procurement professionals. Indeed, generally there was a good focus in the sessions on providing real actions and take-aways for delegates.

The day was rounded off by Claire Taylor, who had a very successful cricketing career and won the World Cup with the England Ladies team in 2009. She spoke about using personal skills alongside team and collaborative working in the cricketing world, and how values, networks and leadership also play into the development of successful collaborative working in business. She has worked as a management consultant and is clearly a very smart woman as well as a brilliant cricketer.

The exhibition area was somewhat over-crowded, but I suspect that did almost force delegates into engaging with the firms showing their wares. And at the reception after the event we had live music from a Royal College of Music (members of LUPC) guitar duo, and I had the honour of shaking hands with the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens (see picture). The author had some connections with the house, and Gerald Dickens, an actor and director himself, read from the books and told us a little about the great man’s life – that was an excellent way to finish the day.

This was undoubtedly a successful event for the two consortia. I always enjoy time spent with the higher education sector folk – they’re very thoughtful, positive and generally a pleasure to work with. And look out for more to come here soon on those sessions mentioned above.

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