Procure for Housing Live 2016 — A Review

On June 28 - 30, Procure for Housing (PfH) held its annual conference in Manchester. PfH is the only national procurement organisation dedicated to the needs of the social housing sector. We weren't able to attend, but our guest writer, Dr Jo Meehan, senior lecturer in strategic purchasing at the University of Liverpool Management School, was speaking at the event and took the time to give us her impressions of the day. 

This was my fourth time at social housing procurement event PfH Live and the theme this year, ‘rising to the challenge’ was apt. Just a few days before, we’d all woken to the shock of Brexit and as the stunned bewilderment of the first few days melted away, I felt that as delegates poured into Manchester Central on 28th June, they wanted answers.

PfH Live is ‘co-located’ in the CIH Housing conference and exhibition - the largest social housing-focused event in Europe (footfall over the three days is more than 10,000 people). As such, public-sector procurement and the EU regulatory regime that will - or won’t - govern post-referendum is a hot topic.

PfH Live 2016 b

£242 billion was spent on the procurement of goods and services by the public sector last year and the 1,700 social landlords in the UK account for a large slice of this spend.

PfH Live aims to provide answers on a whole host of key business issues for the sector. Everything from how to manage procurement risk in volatile markets, the role of procurement in re-shaping housing’s care models, using contract management to effect strategic commercial change and making the most of framework agreements.

In this last session, Andrew Millross, a procurement expert from law firm Anthony Collins, provided a topical overview of the legalities of framework contracts and the potential impact of Brexit and trade deals on EU procurement regulation.

I shared my latest research findings with delegates, looking at where they can drive value in their procurement activity. My aim was to use these results to provide a challenge to the social housing sector’s push to be more strategic, suggesting instead that they look at an alternative path of procurement maturity -- something I wrote about for Spend Matters earlier in June.

CIPs board member and former director of the North West Centre of Excellence, Colin Cram led an interactive debate on ‘smart procurement’, looking at what keeps social housing CEOs awake at night and procurement’s role in delivering corporate objectives. The audience shared their experiences of procurement enablers and discussed how they could contribute to business success.

This brings us back to answers and how procurement can provide solutions to the business challenges facing the sector. Social housing is going through a tough time. Traditional income streams are fading due to 1% rent reductions, Right-to-Buy extensions and an ongoing loss of grant funding. An increasingly forensic approach to investigating costs, adopted by the regulator, puts housing associations under even greater economic pressure before they even touch on the impact of Brexit and how they need to prepare.

The sector wants answers to all of these problems and the response I heard time and time again from speakers at PfH Live was connected to commercialisation. There seems to be a rising need for reinvigorated business discipline, sharper commercial insight and much better procurement techniques in a sector that has, in the past, struggled to hone its commercial skills and even utter the word profit.

Next year I hope to hear how better procurement is improving business performance across social housing, offering up answers to the financial challenges that every landlord seems to be facing.

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