Surrey and (some of) Sussex merge Council Procurement activity

Some positive public sector procurement news. Surrey (my home County) and East Sussex have agreed to merge their procurement functions, creating a buying centre with a spend of over £1 billion a year. Surrey have been a leader in local government world for some time, with a strong senior team, including Andrew Forzani and Laura Langstaff (an ex-CIPS Young Purchaser of the Year).

Forzani is now the Head of Procurement across the 2 Counties with a combined external spend of just over £1bn. The short term aim, he says, is “to create a joint strategic procurement plan across 4 key spend areas which are IT, Adults Social Care, Highways Maintenance, and Childrens SEN schools and to also join up on our P2P and e-sourcing systems”.

Both use an SAP platform which helps, and as you’d expect, the primary goal is savings in these challenging times for the public purse. There is one other interesting angle to this though. Why not West Sussex as well, we asked? They are, when it comes down to it, not very far away from East Sussex!

West Sussex have outsourced procurement (amongst other things) to Capita in a major deal announced last month, so they’re not involved with Surrey and East Sussex, at the moment at least. That brought back some of our comments around the growth in procurement outsourcing that we made a few weeks ago – might it actually work against some of the positive collaborative initiatives? Would Capita agree to hand over some procurement activities to a public sector collaboration if that cost them revenue?

However, one idea presents itself. We’ve actually got a pretty good test-bed going on here.  East Sussex taking the public sector collaborative route; West outsourcing to perhaps THE strongest of the generalist public sector BPO service provider firms.

So how about we give it 18 months or so, then we carry out an independent review of procurement performance in East versus West Sussex? Do some proper price benchmark comparisons; look at process efficiency; internal stakeholder, citizen and supplier satisfaction; procurement contribution towards wider policy goals... and so on.

I’m not sure what the National Audit Office (NAO) mandate is now in terms of local authorities as the Audit Commission continues through its elongated and confusing death throes, but could NAO take that on? Or someone like the Local Government Association?

Anyway, Forzani is also looking to develop a wider collaboration between seven south-east authorities, (the SE7 initiative) and we hope to meet up with him soon and have a chat about progress there as well as with the Sussex merger. We’ll see what he thinks about our “experiment” idea as well!

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