Did you miss hearing from Sophie Quenby, Head of Consortium Services at Tomorrow's Procurement? Here's what she had to say on the topic of integrity within the public sector...
Whilst writing my speech about the reason why being a public sector organisation is important I had the realisation that all the things I wanted to convey in my talk have real life and tangible consequences and I was surrounded by them.
Naturally I did what any good procrastinator does and spent some time on social media, messaged friends, made cups of coffee.
During this research it dawned on me the message I wanted to get across today. The reason why being a public sector organisation is important and the realisation that all the things I wanted to convey have real life and tangible consequences and I was surrounded by them.
The schools my children go to, where the teachers put an incredible amount of effort into ensuring children are not only educated but are safe and looked after. The firefighters risking their lives because yet again someone thought it was a clever idea to have a barbecue at the top of Rivington pike. Local reference sorry! The midwives, nurses and doctors who took care of my cousin’s prematurely born son and those nurses who were extraordinary in her end-of-life care before she passed away from cancer just 3 months after giving birth.
The public sector is the backbone of the economy. It is full of essential services that are taken for granted and for which if it goes wrong, it goes horribly wrong. I don’t think any of us need reminding of the consequences of overworked social workers or poorly maintained flats.
Public money is not unlimited, there isn’t a money tree where funds grow that can be used to improve these services. What is available, however, can be spent better and made to go further. And if you work in or with the public sector then it’s your responsibility to make sure this happens.
Whether you manage a budget, make business decisions or procure services public sector money should be spent with the same due care and attention as if it were your own.... because it is.
Public procurement in my opinion is massively undervalued. It should be leading the way public sector organisations spend their money. There are rules and regulations to be followed for a reason, and the understanding and ability to navigate these requires expertise and knowledge gained from real experience. This is what the procurement team at Places for People and Procurement Hub has, but that’s not to say there has never been a requirement to use a procurement consortium. In fact, that is what lead to the creation of Procurement Hub.
The procurement team identified a gap in the market to challenge and improve the way public procurement is managed. There was concern and frustration that expensive procurement consortia were not managing public spend with honesty and professionalism – and that this view would be shared by other public sector bodies too. We wanted to be part of making public procurement more ethical and more valued.
For many organisations they are either overstretched, that expertise is unavailable internally or it simply doesn’t make sense to carry out the procurement because there’s a better option through using a procurement consortium. The bigger the buying power, the better the rates.
That said, there is no such thing as a single procurement consortium that can meet the needs of every single public sector organisation… believe it or not there is room in the market for more than one!
As you may know almost all procurement consortia work by retrospectively charging suppliers on their agreements a fee, rebate, or commission, and they often operate without any genuine desire to benefit the public sector. On top of this some consortia also charge the supply chain to be part of their frameworks.
I’m not saying businesses can’t make money, but where that money goes is very important.
I read earlier this year that procurement consortia shouldn’t be compared as it’s like comparing apples and oranges. I would counteract that and tell any public sector organisation that they absolutely should compare and for the reasons outlined above - the legal and moral duty to make sure that public funds are spent appropriately. With the new procurement regulations planned implementation drawing ever closer, there will be numerous changes and requirements for the sector with the overarching basis predominantly around integrity. The clear sharing of information around awarded contracts, the increased use of SMEs and the demonstration of fair and appropriate use of income generated from public sector contracts.
As we are not a privately owned organisation, we strive to do things differently with a more social purpose. Being part of the UKs leading social enterprise ensures that this is always first and foremost in our minds. We always think about the end user.
With that in mind I wanted to share some of the areas I would actively encourage questions on from any public sector organisation wishing to utilise Procurement Hub.
This is the most common of questions. What are they and what do you get for them?
Fees should be transparent and clear which is why all of ours are published on our website. They should be appropriate and used for the good of the public interest. We’ve kept our fees deliberately low – between 0.15 and 2% - and there are no other charges to either customers or suppliers.
All of the surplus we generate is reinvested into social housing, making a difference to local communities through social value or donated to charities. Procurement Hub has donated over half a million pounds to charitable projects since 2020. There is widespread recognition that we want to put the interests of the public sector first by giving back to society in as many ways as possible.
Contracting Authority Status
Being part of Places for People means that we have contracting authority status in our own right. We are not privately owned; we don’t have shareholders or piggyback on other public sector organisations. All our solutions are fully vetted, easy to use and ensure compliance when awarding contracts, enabling customers to deliver full transparency. We live and breathe the public sector, it’s what we do day in and day out.
We know what you are going through and the complexities you face. Our experience comes from procuring with the end user in mind because we’re one of you. This means we ensure that best practice is always adhered to. If it’s important to you, then it’s important to us, and it’s our name on it so we want to make sure it’s right. Every member of the procurement team is either MCIPS or working towards and takes part in regular CIPS training to stay ahead of best practice and principles.
We’re also leading the way in formulating the new procurement regulations by working with the Cabinet Office and Trowers and Hamlins. It’s important for us to be ahead of the new requirements and to drive the positive changes that are coming, but to also ensure that the team is ready for the changes in order to support our customers.
We constantly strive to improve our solution offering. We won’t just rehash a framework or create new ones which already saturate the market. We focus on innovation and improvement, and we learn from our mistakes. Our Major Projects 2 Framework was one of the first to be evaluated in line with the Gold Standard and I’m now pleased to say we have been awarded the Gold Standard award. We now form part of a best practice working group and are dedicated to leading positive change in procurement and providing the highest standards of service.
Our supply chain is important to us. For our frameworks we appoint only those that suppliers that meet our expectations and our values. We would never appoint a multitude of suppliers claiming that anyone could be used and then ask them to pay a fee to be on the framework. We want to build working relationships with our suppliers based on trust and integrity.
Our DPS’s are open to all suppliers including SMEs where we can support their application and use a regional selection method to maximise the opportunity for local spend.
I would encourage any public sector organisation to question any consortia to test their values and ethics regarding the use of public money and the following of procurement principles.
Finally, I wanted to end on one more point about Procurement Hub. I have worked at Places for People for 15 years now, and for the last 12 of those I have been part of the procurement department. I have been lucky enough to have been a part of Procurement Hub right from day 1 so it’s been a journey for me as well as the business. I have watched it evolve from an idea to where it is today, seen the team grow from 3 people to over 20 and I am incredibly proud.
At the start the majority of our customers were registered providers and local authorities, we now have a much more varied customer base, from emergency services, NHS to education establishments.
Making sure that our primary aim was to readdress the issues I’ve talked about and keep the end user in mind all the time is something that continues to drive me to improve. Procurement Hub means something to me, and I want everyone to feel proud to be associated with us. That’s why I am so excited we have been shortlisted for this evening’s awards event as Service Provider of the Year.
To find out more about the events we are attending this year, click here>.