Frontier technology at the forefront of public sector procurement

Richard Hallewell, Chief Executive, CIPFA CPRAS Technology Procurement Association
July 30, 2021

You’ll have heard the saying: if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

In the public sector, this was fine in the days when you could estimate with some certainty what your income was going to be from one year to the next; as well as your outgoings, your targets, your procurement costs. You knew what needed to be achieved, so you could deliver services for your communities on time and within budget.

But austerity, COVID-19 and climate change have changed this forever. People’s needs and expectations are different, the impact of extreme weather is greater, and jobs have been lost – stretching services to capacity. Since 2020, schooling has been delayed or lost for many students, and the way we travel and work has been turned upside down – all of which affect the places and communities that the public sector serves.

With the new National Procurement Policy Statement publication on 3 June setting out the strategic priorities that will support the recovery phase post-COVID, we now know that efficient, effective and compliant public procurement is needed now more than ever.

In essence, the priorities are economic recovery, rebuilding communities, and conserving the environment.

The Policy Statement uses terms everyone would expect in the public sector, such as transparency, scrutiny, and good custodianship. But it also brings in a renewed focus on social value, this time as a priority, instructing all contracting authorities to keep this at the forefront of all decisions. This intends to ensure that every action has a positive impact on issues like jobs and training, the move towards carbon neutrality, and creating a more diverse and resilient supply chain.

Interestingly when it comes to procurement, councils are no longer pressured to accept the lowest price. Value for money should not be based on price alone, since value can also be in social, economic and environmental benefits - even though money management is fundamental to good governance and stewardship. It stresses collaboration and transparency - such as publishing pipelines for months and years ahead - and increasing buying power through partnerships. All these factors support delivery of value for money, social benefit and increased transparency.

When it comes to procurement, councils are no longer pressured to accept the lowest price. Value for money should not be based on price alone, since value can also be in social, economic and environmental benefits

But how can all of this be achieved by procurement teams who were already stretched pre-pandemic? How are these professionals suddenly going to be informed enough to recognise the social value in every bid, the assessment of environmental quality when awarding contracts, without appropriate support? We have heard this in person from those on the frontline at roundtable events. How can we suddenly change our operating model without some serious help?

Fortunately for the public sector, innovation is also at the forefront of government thinking. This means the use of disruptive technologies and business models throughout the supply chain is key to helping deliver cost savings and improving the quality of goods and services.
That is where we come in.

At the CIPFA CPRAS Technology Procurement Association (CCTPA), we are passionate about helping the public purse benefit from efficient frontier technologies. The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning may not be on everyone’s lips, but fintech, open banking and sustainable energy surely must be.

There are few procurement problems for which a tech solution does not exist. There are technologies out there working to fill potholes quickly and sustainably

From our own work at CPRAS with councils up and down the country, we have already built technology solutions into procurement frameworks. Our first Banking and Finance Framework, for instance, offers fintech solutions from fully compliant, regulated suppliers including high street banks and credit reporting agencies, awarded various elements: core banking services, merchant account services, payment gateways, direct debits, call masking and open banking. They are pre-vetted, meet agreed standards for added value and corporate social responsibility, have passed stringent levels of due diligence, are compliant and have fixed prices for the duration. The best part is that the council is freed from the time, cost and risks associated with undertaking a tender process – but can call off services directly from the supplier.

There are few procurement problems for which a tech solution does not exist. There are technologies out there working to fill potholes quickly, sustainably, using natural materials and leaving behind permanent fixes. Setting solar farms on the roofs of public buildings such as schools and hospitals. Installing environmentally friendly forms of waste disposal. Inventing paints that cut the need for air conditioning. Whatever the challenge, there is likely to be a solution out there. We’re keen to explore these innovations with the public sector at large and work together to build pathways to access them.

So now you don’t need to do what you’ve always done.

To find out more, visit https://cctpa.co.uk