Ten Commandments of Procurement – Don’t Be Corrupt, Do Be Objective

Money 2 - BWThis month, we are looking at the Procurement Ten Commandments. Can we define "rules” that always apply and guide the work of practitioners? It seems clear that we need to have at least ONE Commandment that relates to probity and ethical behaviour in the sense of avoiding actions for personal gain.

So how about this? (And we’ve put it in suitably biblical style).

Thou shalt not allow opportunities for personal gain, or subjective opinions, to intrude on thy procurement actions and decisions.

The most obvious aspect of this is obviously corruption. So we clearly must avoid any sort of activity where a procurement person is making decisions or having influence in some manner in return for personal gain. That might be developing specifications to favour suppliers, awarding contracts or passing on inside information in return for money, tickets to the football, gifts, or many other potential benefits. (I only know of one real-life case where it was sexual favours involved, by the way, and interestingly it was a female buyer and a male salesperson ...)

Anyway whatever the recompense, that seems pretty clear in terms of why it is worth a Commandment in our list. We can think of no occasions when this would be allowable, and no extenuating excuses really.

Yet when we think about it, that Commandment can be a little bit broader than areas we usually think of as corruption. We would include making or influencing decisions even where there is no direct financial reward, but procurement is subverting the process as it were for their own personal reasons.

That might be personal favouritism or feelings that are not based on objectivity or genuine judgement ("I've never liked Capita ... I’ll make sure they don’t get the contract" / "their sales director is gorgeous, I want to see them in my office regularly" / "I'm not giving a contract to a firm based in Newcastle, b****y Magpies").

Or it might be something like this. We mentioned the case of David Prior and his actions as chair of the Care Quality Commission in our article here, when he influenced (some might say corrupted) the procurement process to drive the appointment of McKinsey to carry out a particular piece of work. I'm sure he thought that they were the best firm for the job, and he would not gain personally from this choice, yet we thought it shocking because it broke this Commandment by subverting an objective process.

We can’t be totally objective in everything we do; judgement must come into decisions at times. Yet we must always strive to be as objective as possible, minimise the impact of subjective feelings, and not let personal gain come into play.

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