The Procurement Pub Debate – 4 Speeches and Some Strong Banter!

Last week we held the first Spend Matters Procurement Pub Debate for some time, courtesy of eProcurement masters Procserve, and although we say it ourselves, it was very successful.  I think it is fair to say that the audience had a very enjoyable time – it was certainly a lively evening, and there was even a bit of serious commentary too!

With the election just 24 hours away, you might be interested to know the result of the debate. Did the 50 odd people (I mean, about 50 people, not 50 strange people) agree or disagree with the proposition – “This (Public) House Believes the Result of the General Election Will Have No Impact on Public Procurement.”

David Smith, CB, FCIPS, ex CPO of DWP, CIPS Past President and ex Rock Musician, proposed the motion. He was backed by Nigel Clifford, CEO Procserve.

Lee Tribe, Procurement Director for the Met Police, opposed the motion and pointed out that of course the result could impact public procurement (we should stress that he was totally apolitical in his comments however ...) He was backed by Jackie Lacey, MD Chelsea Travel Management.

That formed the suited and booted panel, and each member was given seven minutes to speak and persuade the voters to succumb to their side.

David began by explaining that for many years he had worked in the Treasury across the road and had spent many an hour in this pub, so felt quite at home. Starting with a bit of taunting in good old-fashioned fighting style, he announced that when he first met Lee many years ago, he (Lee) knew nothing then about procurement – and nothing has changed since!  He went on to ask Nigel (the only member to turn up in jeans and rolled up sleeves) if his suit had been stolen - and weren't the Met going to do something about that?

On to the topic though: “the election will have NO impact on procurement,” he exclaimed, “it doesn’t even warrant a sensible mention in the manifestos. Ministers find it boring; it’s not career progressing; it’s not even vote grabbing. But it’s important to us. £100 billion a year is spent on delivery of key services to us all – it should therefore be in the hands of the experts, not the politicians,” was his main battle cry. His point was clear: it doesn’t matter who gets in, and how many elections have changed anything about Procurement?

What about real government intervention in procurement?  Some initiatives have been well intentioned but poorly managed, some ill-conceived – and some even put the Procurement profession in danger. And the manifestos support his belief, with barely a mention of procurement apart from a bit of aspiration for SMEs and a plan for more efficiencies – but what is this plan? And where is it?

Nigel Clifford, supporting David, said “I believe David’s statement is true – David has spent decades in establishments like this" (did he mean the pub or the Treasury?). The name of the occupant of 10 Downing Street is largely irrelevant to procurement. While that may sound surprising, given that the political parties have spoken at length about the cost-free, politically neutral opportunity for using better procurement to release resources for the front line, mentions of procurement in the 3 main manifestos has fallen from 20  in 2010 to 13 in 2015. Procurement savings may quickly fade from the headlines in 2015, he added.

Nigel also more positively commented that regardless of politics, the trend to improve public procurement means it will happen organically, regardless of the party in charge. He believes four things will make the savings happen: the rise of technology; the pressure on making savings; the existence of individuals leading wide-scale change locally; our existence within a wider community and our adherence to its directives.

Lee, opposing the motion, began with a rebuff of David, as one would obviously expect! He announced that he would proceed without notes to live up to David’s standards – ie, David makes it up as he goes along! But his main stance was that “EU procurement law has always underpinned public buying. The result of the election must impact us because it may impact the law, and even our membership of the EU, therefore it will affect procurement.”

What followed was a very clever joke about Capitalism, Government, Workers, the Proletariat and their inter-relations: however, for reasons of modesty (and, moreover, censorship) we are forbidden from revealing the whole story. Suffice to say that he believes politics and procurement are intrinsically linked. Austerity measures will stay in force, and the need to save money is stronger than ever. So to say that procurement has nothing to do with politics and vice versa is plain idiotic! Procurement is the future. And of course whether or not we leave the EU, we will still need procurement law.

Jackie Lacey, supporting Lee, represented the government supply side. She based her argument around transport, coming from that sector. “Yes,” she said, “change in government will affect procurement – with the drivers being cost and control.”

She explained how Travel is an emotive subject, quoting expense scandals, the ash cloud, and so on. In traditional style, and complementing the ethos of the evening, the panel thought it unfair that Jackie had come along toting real-life experience and policy examples! She believes legislation will play a huge role in change and that EU ruling on e-systems in procurement will bring procurement under control.

The likes of HS2 and the extra Heathrow runway, for which the current government has no appetite, will have a huge impact on spend, procurement and the economy. If airlines cannot get the slots, she remarked, they will go elsewhere and take that trade with them. We must expand to attract and  accommodate more business, so buying of transport will make a huge impact on procurement and that depends on who is in power: vote in favour of change, because that change will impact procurement.

So there you have it! What do you think? And tomorrow, we will reveal who won the argument.

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