Elizabeth Vega OBE, Group CEO of Informed Solutions and a member of Cabinet Office’s Procurement Transformation Advisory Committee, was invited to deliver the opening keynote at Westminster Insight’s recent Reforming Public Procurement Conference at the Institute of Structural Engineering in Central London.

The conference came at a very important juncture for public procurement as the UK prepares for The Procurement Act, which will come into force in 2024 and bring modernising and transformative improvements in the way that government and the public sector buys products and materials, services and works.  It will mark the biggest changes to public procurement that the UK has seen since 1945 and the end of WWII.

UK public procurement accounts for around £300 billion in spend, which is a third of all public expenditure every year.  The size and scale of public procurement spend, together with the legal reforms contained in the Act, enables procurement professionals to affect positive change that helps build a more diverse, fair, innovative, and resilient supplier marketplace. New powers under the Act, also enable buyers to create social value and help deliver increased benefits for local communities, including creating new skilled jobs, upskilling and re-skilling of local people, and business growth opportunities across our cities and regions.

The new Act also creates a level playing field for all suppliers, opening up fair and equitable market access for a wider and broader range of suppliers, such as SMEs and third sector organisations. Many SMEs and third sector organisations were previously excluded from bidding, faced unnecessary barriers to fair competition, or incurred disproportionate terms and conditions of business or contractual burdens. The Act and procurement reforms will be a major catalyst for city-region business and economic growth by introducing fair, equitable, transparent and level-playing-field competitions for public contracts; encouraging buyers and suppliers to work together to create social value that benefits local communities, and; by monitoring and encouraging good performance and behaviours from suppliers.

Elizabeth explained that the Act represented more than four years of committed and collaborative working across government, the public sector, procurement experts, legal specialists, businesses of all sizes and charities, experienced advisory groups and trade associations, and wider stakeholder engagement through numerous open public consultations.  She understood that the procurement reforms will take a little time to settle in, and there will undoubtedly be suggested improvement as the reforms are implemented on the ground.  However, Elizabeth emphasised it is important to acknowledge the exceptional thoughtfulness, diligence, and effort that has gone into shaping these reforms and how the UK can significantly benefit from them at social, business, and economic levels if all parties ‘lean into’ implementing them.  Having worked across both industry and government for more than 30 years, Elizabeth believes that the procurement reforms represent a set of core values and principles for delivering better public services and achieving shared success between the public and private sectors. Her own experience as a leading Digital Transformation expert also underlines the importance of leaning into positive change and working collaboratively and with goodwill through the inevitable irritations and frustrations.

An important take away was that not everything will change, but where there are changes it is important to plan and prepare to get the most out of the new Act, it’s new powers for procurement experts, and its greater flexibility.

Using moving home as an analogy for making the most of the new Act, Elizabeth says: “If we see the act as an opportunity to move to a new home; we’ll be taking with us some of the existing furniture that serves us well, but we’ll also de-clutter before we move across to our new place.  It might take a bit of time to un-pack and work out how the new appliances work. But, with the right planning, taking practical steps, adopting a positive mindset, and by reminding ourselves that the inconvenience is because we are moving to a new home that better meets our evolving and future needs, we’ll move across to a modern procurement framework that is less burdensome, enables us to procure better services in a more streamlined and flexible way, and creates social, business and economic growth opportunities across the UK”.

The smooth transition to the new Act will be supported by a very significant investment in online training courses, communities of practice forums, condensed knowledge drops, expert deep dive sessions, sector playbooks, and other learning and development resources.  It’s a fabulous opportunity for procurement professionals across government and the public sector to be up-skilled, progress in their careers, and take-on change leadership roles if that inspires them.  The implementation of the reforms will require collaboration and on-going conversations across government, and between buyers and suppliers. Elizabeth encouraged government, public sector organisations, and suppliers to not be worried, to think ahead, and ask for guidance on how they can prepare for the implementation of the Act and procurement reforms and are build their capabilities and confidence in these areas.

In order to plan and prepare, Cabinet Office has provided a number of very useful Procurement Reform Resources to engage with:

A huge thank you to the Chair, Benjamin Taylor, Chief Executive, Public Service Transformation Academy for moderating such engaging discussion, to the insightful expert speakers and to the Westminster Insight team for organising such an interesting and important event.