(Procurement) Regrets? Not Too Many …

Looking back in my eight years here at Spend Matters I have few regrets, whinges or moans.

I suppose I am a little disappointed we didn’t get more readers - thousands a day isn’t bad but looking at how many procurement people there are in the world… it should be tens of thousands a day!  And when I meet senior procurement folk who have never heard of Spend Matters, it just makes me think they aren’t really interested in the profession they claim to be part of. Do they never Google “procurement”? Don’t they want to read anything about procurement technology? It makes me wonder just how deeply procurement is really established in the hearts and minds of even our own people.

A few people got upset about what I wrote over the years – not too many, luckily. I had a couple of Twitter rows with Christian Lanng, Tradeshift founder, got Ove Arup annoyed because of the way I wrote about the London Garden Bridge fiasco, and I was asked to resign from my non-executive role at Remploy by the then Chairman, because of this Spend Matters article, where I criticised the Prime Minister of the day, David Cameron, for calling public procurement people “enemies of enterprise”.  (Yes, I know, non-execs in the public sector are supposed to be independent… and Santa will be coming down the chimney shortly …)

But it was a deeply ridiculous thing for the PM to say and his track record after that confirmed his essential shallowness and love of a soundbite. Although unlike his mate George Osborne, at least he hasn’t accepted £600K a year from a firm he was supposedly regulating as chancellor just a year or two earlier. Absolute disgrace in my opinion, but the public doesn’t seem too interested in ethics these days.

Anyway, I’m very pleased to have seen procurement getting more involved in sustainability, modern slavery and other related social responsibility matters. But it is sad that so many CPOs are still measured primarily on savings, and that we haven’t convinced every CEO in the world that our role is all about “value” in the widest sense.  The fact that the CEO of CIPS still has to write articles explaining that savings isn’t the be all and end all for the profession is a little depressing (good article though it is!)

I’m disappointed that UK public sector procurement seems to have lost a little focus and profile in recent years. That’s not a criticism necessarily of performance, although there are still too many major failures. However, while I believe some good things are happening, there seems little desire to talk about them much. It also seems to have slipped down the priority list somewhat. Remember election manifestos that made big play of how procurement would generate savings, support smaller firms and so on? Now, the target for government spend in the UK with smaller suppliers (SMEs) is missed every year, yet again no one seems to care. It’s a daft target, and if procurement was higher on the agenda there would be a debate about changing it to a more sensible goal.

Rail franchising has been a disaster, as was the Carillion affair, yet the discussion about these issues tends to be almost purely political, rather than an informed debate about the potential for alternative commercial models in a mixed economy. And the National Audit Office has done very good work in the commercial / procurement space, but I perceive it is increasingly disregarded by top civil servants and politicians.

Anyway, that’s enough of my whingeing for today. The really big challenge for procurement is I suspect to come over the next 5 years or so, as AI and machine learning really start to have an impact. How much of what we do can be replaced or even done better by machines? As this plays out, we will see just what “procurement” has to offer the business and public sector worlds.

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Voices (2)

  1. Dan:

    I’ve been reading your blog since before it was even called Spend Matters, and it is quite depressing how procurement suffers the same problems as it did then.

    From a public sector point of view, its not all bad though – the current travails of Interserve, Capita etc, show that the public sector are a lot better at awarding and managing these complex contracts. Austerity has been both a blessing and curse to the sector – its raised our profile immeasurably, while at the same time embedding us as the tendering and savings people, with little impression of the wider value we can offer. Still, silver linings and all that – its now an area people choose to work in, rather than one they’re reassigned to.

    My hopes for the future? That CIPS stands up and starts representing its public sector members a little better. We can but dream…

    Have a great Christmas Peter

  2. Michael Angel:

    Peter, I am gutted I never came across Spend Matters sooner. I absolutely agree with the first point about how invested in procurement are procurement professionals? Whilst personal ambition isn’t a bad thing, I think all too often many procurement professionals are self-centred (I’d even say I was in the first part of my career) and certainly focus too much on personal achievement. I think CIPS has a major role to play in not just so much profile elevation of the profession, but getting procurement professionals to care about procurement and become more invested with it. It’s something I am trying to do is get procurement professionals passionate about procurement. It’s a great career to have, but as a profession that drives innovation and forward thinking, I don’t think the behaviours quite match that.

    The profile of Public Sector Procurement will always be one which is seen as commercially weak. Mainly because the perception that it is too rigid and process driven and doesn’t prioritise on value and it limits value creation and importantly value added procurement. There is the issue whereby if a major procurement process goes wrong, it costs the taxpayer and taxpayers will ultimately feel they have to pick up the tab. Private Sector such an issue wipes value off the company, however it is less controversial for them to up prices for their products/services as it is to raise taxes! I think Public Sector takes too much of a kicking and that shifts all the focus away from all the sterling work they do.

    My hopes for procurement in 2019 and beyond is we see the professionals gets passionate about it, CIPS become more proactive in embracing it’s many members, more and more youngsters seeing procurement as a career choice and not being something they ‘fall into’ and lastly see this ridiculous private/public sector façade die out. About time both sectors got a grip and did something about it instead of lazily clinging to uninformed beliefs and see procurement professionals as just that. Procurement professionals. They know how to procure regardless of sector, industry or organisation.

    Have a great Christmas Peter and a prosperous 2019.

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