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Procurement reform is crucial and long overdue

“Procurement behaviours and associated processes remain stubbornly lengthy, expensive, adversarial and risk averse”

Problems with the procurement of public sector infrastructure projects and asset management contracts continue to make the headlines. All the evidence suggests that some pretty fundamental errors are still being made across the industry.

And before you all flip the page muttering “procurement - sounds boring and really it’s got nothing to do with me” please let me remind you that, while it may seem dull, the right procurement approach remains absolutely fundamental to project success.

As so many clients appear to be finding out. The reasons are many and varied but it is clear is that modern procurement requires substantial investment of time, money and expertise to get right - investment that is not always available or understood.

The reality is that this investment is increasingly hard to find as public and private sector clients continue to struggle under the burden of ever-tightening budgets and ever-increasing decision making scrutiny. Thus the new procurement route map published by Infrastructure UK last week looks like a welcome contribution.

The aim of this new tool kit is to provide “a structured approach to assessing and improving sponsor, client and supply chain capability and integration” around procurement.The hope is that, while there is no “one size fits all” procurement plan, clients will at least understand how to identify the right solutions in the future.

And that will mean clients sitting down with their supply chains to identify, discuss and address what has been going wrong.

“To deliver infrastructure more effectively, infrastructure projects and programmes must address entrenched negative behaviours and the long standing issues of inefficiency in the approach to procurement, project delivery and engagement with supply chains,” says Infrastructure UK. “This is particularly true of many government and wider public sector projects.”

It is unlikely to be easy. As the route map points out “procurement behaviours and associated processes remain stubbornly lengthy, expensive, adversarial and risk averse”. In short, despite years of studies designed to advance the industry’s approach, there are still only a handful of truly enlightened clients leading the charge.

Last week we saw the £33bn High Speed 2 project take a step forward. This week Crossrail 2 is on the radar alongside £310bn of other new infrastructure slated for the UK.

Engineers must certainly get the engineering right. But given the potential financial downsides of getting procurement wrong, it is vital the industry also recognises its responsibilities and takes a strong lead across this domain.

If there ever was a time to avoid wasting money it is now. This route map must be considered as not just a good read but also a positive call to action.

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