We all know the benefits of including customers in the procurement process. Many public bodies, from housing providers to local councils do it regularly. Some host buying panels where residents quiz bidding contractors. Others organise open days giving tenants the chance to meet suppliers and chose products.
It makes complete sense for public providers to involve the people they serve in the development and commissioning of their services. This increases public satisfaction as customers have helped to shape the services they receive.
As a housing association procurement manager said to me recently: “If we have a contract for works at a load of properties then there is no-one better in the world to evaluate the contractors than the householders themselves.”
But the trick is managing this involvement. There is a big difference between local residents sitting in a procurement meeting as decisions are made around them and the process of fully empowering people so they can confidently scrutinise procurement. Indeed some public procurement officers report they find themselves ‘leading’ customer panels as many participants lack confidence and knowledge.
So how do you equip tenants with that confidence and understanding? Procurement for Housing (PfH) is currently working with social landlords to tackle this. One way to promote meaningful customer involvement is through training and we’re trialling a programme where residents can sit procurement exams and become qualified CIPS members.
Seven housing organisations have already put tenants through the CIPS Level 2 exam. But it hasn’t been an entirely smooth process. Some tenants haven’t passed, others took several attempts. Many flew through with flying colours. These were rigorous exams and even those who failed said they had gained a huge amount from the process.
The majority of tenants felt that both their confidence and CV had been enhanced. A number are now considering further education. Gaining a better understanding of procurement has opened their eyes to a range of personal development and career opportunities.
Procurement managers have reported those tenants who’ve
been trained have a better awareness of the deeper supply chain and are able to challenge buying decisions more confidently, improving value for money across the board. Importantly, they have a stronger understanding of how and why things go right and wrong and the hoops that procurement officers have to jump through.
In the future, if public bodies want customers to make the majority of buying decisions and get these decisions right they should consider a similar empowerment model.
☛ Steve Malone is managing director of Procurement for Housing