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Alastair Merrill's letter 21 March 2011

Just back from attending the UK National Procurex in Birmingham, where I was enlightening our southern cousins on public sector procurement reform in Scotland. The event was quieter than last year but there was still a great atmosphere, some excellent speakers, and a good audience keen to hear of the Scottish experience. I took part in a panel discussion, ably chaired by Colin Cram, the former Chief Executive of the North West (England) Procurement Centre of Excellence, along with David Noble from CIPS, Rachel Mason-Jones from the University of Glamorgan, Paul Mallory from the International Association for Contract and Commercial Management, and Ian Taylor, the new director of the North Eastern Purchasing Organisation. All experts in their field, committed to procurement reform, and clear about the challenges ahead. I was particularly struck by the widespread recognition of the importance of contract management. As Paul Mallory put it, "signing a contract is only creating the opportunity to deliver value. Post contract commercial management is how that value will actually be delivered". A valuable note of warning when the pressure can be to cut corners, and move on to the next challenge once the ink's dry.

The Procurement Reform Board met at the beginning of March, for the first time since last summer (the autumn meeting had to be cancelled). The Board heard a briefing from John McClelland on his report into public sector ICT infrastructure (watch this space for more on this). It welcomed the delivery plan as a real step forward in making the strategy come to life, and looked at the emerging procurement capability analysis results. It was good to see real progress being made across all sectors, and the PCA is proving its worth in highlighting the areas where public bodies need to focus on, and also how good practice and success can be shared. Commercial contract management strikes me as an area where there is real scope for a more systematic approach to good practice, and this is something that we shall be looking at in the months to come.

The PCA was also the focus of an excellent conference I attended with local authority heads of procurement in February organised by Scotland Excel. It was a great opportunity to bring procurement leads together, to share knowledge and experiences, and to look at the lessons emerging from the 2010 round of capability analyses. There was a really good buzz in the air, and a real sense of the procurement community coming together.

One of the last big procurement exercises before the election came to fruition at the beginning of March, with the announcement of the Water Services contract. This is a fantastic achievement, and completes the suite of national utility collaborative framework contracts that we have now put in place -- a real showcase of how it is possible to save money, improve quality, and procure sustainability with rigorous environmental standards. Congratulations to all those involved.

There will be no blog in April, but normal service will resume in May, with some early thoughts on the challenges facing procurement and commercial management in the new Parliament!