Decisions, decisions

Source: PSE June/July 2018

The true social value of procurement comes from asking challenging questions and thinking outside the box, argues Melissa Bell, sustainable procurement manager at the YPO.

Everyone wants more for their money – and this is even more so true within the public sector. Budgets are shrinking and expectations are rising. The age-old adage of having to do more with less has never been more true. However, I believe procurement is uniquely placed to help – and not only in the way most people expect.

Procurement departments should not be seen as ‘blockers’ or the ‘compliance police,’ only to be engaged with as a last resort. Instead, they should be working with colleagues across the organisation to tackle the most important issues. For a long time now, social value has been a tick-box exercise. Even with the introduction of the Social Vale Act in 2012, many public sector bodies are yet to fully embrace what great procurement can achieve.

Most business cases for the start of a procurement project go one of two ways: “It’s over threshold, so I’ve been told I have to do a tender process,” or “I want to save some money!” While both are perfectly valid, procurement officers should start to delve deeper into the real issues faced by their colleagues to understand what is actually important to them.

Procurement officers should not be afraid to ask the difficult questions and try to understand what’s keeping everyone up at night.

Is your head of children’s services worried about the rising number of children not in full-time education, employment or training (NEET)? Is your headteacher concerned about class sizes? By understanding the driving force behind the issues, it will usually become clear that budgets, or lack of budgets, are only part of the problem. If money was no object, what would be the issues still faced by each department and what outcomes would they like to see?

When procurement really starts to ask these questions and challenge colleagues to rethink what is important to them, they can help embed real social value outputs that can make a difference.

It’s all too easy to just say that price is important. Of course it is; nobody wants to pay over the odds for anything. But that isn’t the root of the issue, nor is it actually addressing their real concerns. I would challenge procurement officers everywhere to push back if anyone actually says it is.

For example, in a tender for lift maintenance, what is actually important to the facilities team? That the maintenance provider was the cheapest but potentially has a four-hour call-out lead time? Or that they’re locally based and can attend quickly in case of an emergency? On a basic level, by understanding this, tender documents can be written in a way that will truly address the real concerns that may present themselves.

While an understanding like the above can demonstrate a social value output by showing that the facilities team are more concerned with people safety over cost, this essentially is just good procurement and even more can be done to address social value.

By understanding your supply chain, you can try thinking outside of the box. Can your travel management company help identify hotels in your area that can provide washing facilities for people with no fixed abode? Can any of your suppliers extend training and apprenticeship opportunities specifically to those you identify as NEET? Does your catering supplier offer any cooking classes to promote healthy eating among children?

Taking social factors into consideration rather than placing an emphasis on cost while making procurement decisions can generate huge benefits to both your organisation and to society as a whole. The power of procurement can help change the world.


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