Socially Sustainable Public Procurement and a Day-Trip To Leicester

Last Thursday we took the impressively on-time train service from East Midlands Trains up to Leicester for a one-day seminar on Socially Sustainable Public Procurement organised by the Leicester University Law School.

There were around 30 delegates, a mix of academics, procurement lawyers and procurement practitioners, that group coming largely from local government and universities. The content was generally very interesting; the only suggestion for next time would be to allow more time for discussion. Most presenters ran right up to the end of their designated 30 minutes so we had little time for what would we’re sure have been stimulating, given the different views and ideas evident from the group.

But it was still a useful and illuminating event. We’re going to have more detailed reviews of the content on our Public Spend Forum website later this week and next, so do check in there if you want to know more; this is just a quick summary really.

The keynote address came from the legendary Professor Sue Arrowsmith of Nottighma University, the most highly regarded academic lawyer on public sector matters in Europe, we would say. We’ll certainly be covering her session in more detail on Public Spend Forum, but one key message from her was that UK public procurement rules aren’t going to change anytime soon! Basically, don’t get too excited folks  … 2021 at the earliest, is her view, and even then she is sceptical that we will see major changes.

She also suggested that even given their devolved status, Scotland and Wales are unlikely to be allowed to have their own national preference policies to drive public procurement to their “local” or national firms. Quite rightly, she pointed out this could lead to a sort of internal national protectionism within the UK, which is untenable (and economically stupid of course).

There was also some healthy tension during the day, between those who see social value as a legitimate and important role of public procurement, and those like our old friend Dr Albert Sanchez-Graells of Bristol University, who applied some rigorous analysis to explain the negatives and paradoxes connected to policies such as using public procurement to drive wage policies.

Equally, when you hear people like the impressive Natalie Evans, the Responsible Procurement Manager for the City of London, talking about their ground-breaking approach to sustainable procurement, you are left thinking that there is definitely merit in what is being done by the best and most forward thinking practitioners.

As we say, more to come on PSF Europe, so look out for that if you’re interested in the latest thinking around this topic.

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