Wales Procurement Week – an Overview of the Event

It's long time since I spent three solid days at a single event (apart from Reading Festival), so last week's Wales Procurement Week event, organised by Bangor University's Institute for Competition and Procurement Studies (ICPS),  was an unusual experience for me. We'll have more detail on various sessions to come, but for today, here are some general impressions.

I want to move to Cardiff, that's the first conclusion. I just happened to drop into one of the most pleasant Wetherspoons I've ever visited, with an excellent 5.7% Townshend's IPA on their beer festival list for £2.25. Yes, per pint, not half. The local brew, Brains, was a gob-smacking £1.89. Ridiculous. And if you get the 11pm munchies on the way back from the pub (yes, I confess), a Peter's Corned Beef Pasty in the Tesco Express was 50p! Basically, food and alcohol appear to be virtually free compared to London. And it is a great city now – the tour of Cardiff Castle, where the International Dinner was held on Wednesday, was excellent too.

Anyway, back to procurement.

We commented on Friday about the odd situation of Procurex and the ICPS Week clashing. We don't want to get into the politics of this, but it doesn’t make any sense frankly. There aren’t so many procurement events in Wales that having two clashing makes sense. We would humbly suggest in our UN peace-keeping role that either the two events need to sort out different dates (Spring and Autumn, let's say) or the players involved need to come to an entente cordial that sees the two events co-exist alongside in the same week in a planned manner.

On to the event itself ... the Wednesday did suffer in terms of numbers, perhaps because of Procurex, and also having a couple of parallel strands running during the day alongside the main programme thinned out the numbers in the main room. So let's just say it wasn't the largest audience I've ever presented to when I did my session! But the day, on Cities of the Future, included some fascinating presentations. And if procurement people don't think this matters to them, they’re wrong - but more on that to come.

However, in terms of numbers, Thursday was packed, standing room only in the morning. We heard the Minister with responsibility for procurement in the Welsh Government, Jane Hutt, give a good speech which showed she does "get it" in terms of procurement. And it is clear that the public sector in Wales has actually led the way in terms of certain procurement ideas and initiatives – the best practitioners there compare well with their compatriots in England and beyond, we’d suggest.

Considering Thursday was largely dedicated to public procurement legal and process matters, it turned out to be a really fascinating, lively and useful day. We'll have more detail to come, but highlights included a demolition job on the most common price evaluation methodologies from Prof Jan Telgen from the Netherlands, (the same argument really we featured here and here last week from Peter Marshall), and Sally Collier, CEO of Crown Commercial Service being very open and passionate about what she hopes to see from the new directives.

Friday wasn’t quite the packed house of the previous day, but still a very decent number and a good agenda ranging through Innovation, SMEs, eSourcing, a thought-provoking session on why procurement should be more evidence based from Abby Semple (pictured here), the versatile Caroline Nicholas from UNCITRAL covering several topics, and a passionate session on collusion and corruption from Gianluigi Albano. We’ll follow up on a number of these here and on our Public Spend Matters Europe site over the next couple of weeks.

What is most impressive is how ICPS manages to get a really good roster of speakers, people who can talk with real knowledge and make it lively and interesting manner. These are key public procurement issues, but are also topics that can be rather dry. It is not easy to find people who can get the balance, but ICPS pulls it off. The event also has a strong focus on innovation and new developments; yet is far from being a purely "academic" event (in the sense that IPSERA for instance has become, rather unfortunately in my view).

There are still are things that could be improved – we’d suggest for a start that the organisers insist on presentations in advance so we don't go through the IT agonies of "will the USB stick download”! And whilst there is generally time for questions after each presentation, might some more “round-table” type sessions be good to break up the agenda and give the very informed audience more chance to contribute directly?

But the final positive is that this is an event that is truly global. I spoke to people from China, Canada, Slovakia, Estonia, Italy, Portugal, South Africa... that’s not something you get the chance to do often, and it was both enjoyable and very illuminating.

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Voices (2)

  1. Phil Holmes:

    I attended last years event as a guest. If it wasn’t for the invitation, I wouldn’t have known about the event which I thought was very good. This year once again, I’ve missed the event. I’m possibly not looking in the right publications for event details or if I am, I’m missing the most important ones. Anyway, great to hear that Wales is still firmly on the map where Procurement is concerned. I hope to return one day.

  2. Dan:

    I agree on Cardiff – lovely city (although I may have been influenced by the cloud-free sunshine – not something I’m used to in the North East!)

    The legal day was very useful, mainly because it was so unusual. Normally these sessions would be dry, and comprised of lawyers speaking all day on compliance, but by having academics and senior practitioners talking as well, it made it more of an interesting debate about what could be accomplished within the rules. Certainly gives more food for thought than is the norm!

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