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26 July 2018 | By Peter Ware Community

Public procurement: an enabler of social change

From simply “buying stuff” to making a difference, Browne Jacobson explains what needs to change when public and private sector work in partnership 

When it comes to public services, public bodies now spend more on outsourced arrangements than they do on direct delivery. But the procurement function doesn’t always receive the attention it deserves – except when things go wrong – and that means opportunities are being missed for these contracts to become a force for good.

Procurements can, if structured and thought about properly, achieve so much more for the society they serve.

Browne Jacobson recently partnered with the CBI to evaluate the effectiveness of public sector procurement – and find out what can be done by both business and government to ensure vital public services and infrastructure benefit from business investment and innovation.

The massive cuts in public sector funding, particularly in local government, have inevitably affected procurement activity – including seeing an increased focus on contracts being used as a vehicle to reduce short term-costs. One of the key messages coming out of the Partnering for Prosperity report – and indeed recent events in the outsourcing sector – is that cost and value for money need to be more carefully looked at if we are going to achieve a sustainable and viable market place in the medium to longer term.

It is encouraging to see that the private sector recognises the pressures that have been put on the public sector. Their response is a genuine desire to work in partnership with the public sector to deliver something better.

In particular, firms saw the need both to improve skills in the public sector and to build better, long-term relationships.

Common ground

With this in mind, the National Procurement Strategy, which has recently been issued by the Local Government Association, seems to chime perfectly with the mood of the private sector.

In particular it focuses on three key themes:

  • Showing leadership;
  • Behaving commercially; and
  • Achieving community benefits.

Just as in the CBI report, this policy homes in on how the buying power of the public sector can be used to achieve so much more than just the cheapest contract. It will be interesting to see how this policy gets implemented by local government over the coming years.

There certainly seems to be a clear appetite by all parties to make a difference in how public funds are spent. In future, when cost is considered it must not just be a bottom line number, but a proper evaluation of how what the public sector buys can really make a difference to the society we all work in.

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