Merrill describes challenges of collaborative purchasing

16 June 2010 | Lindsay Clark

Ministerial backing is key to the success of joint buying in the public sector, Scotland’s procurement chief said yesterday.

Alastair Merrill, director of procurement in the Scottish government, addressed delegates at the Public Procurement Show in London about the challenges he faced in encouraging collaboration across government. His comments come as the UK government seeks to mandate joint buying across Whitehall and boost collaboration in the wider public sector as it faces a mountainous budget deficit.

“My boss is the equivalent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer [for the UK],” said Merrill. “That ministerial involvement has been critical to success across two administrations: the former Liberal-Labour coalition, through to the current minority [Scottish National Party] government.”

In addition, improved information management, including a national procurement hub, together with training in best practice, had helped enable buyers to get the most out of collaboration, he said. “Better management of information helps us identify opportunities with sites and between sites,” he added.

It also helped suppliers understand how to improve awareness of what work was available.

Audit Scotland found the approach has achieved £327 million savings in the two years to 2007-08 on an £8 billion spend on goods and services. “From the Scottish experience, we have achieved significant results up to now, but a bigger challenge lies ahead,” said Merrill.

“Procurement has rarely been so much in the public eye. It is not a magic wand, but will play an important part. Collaboration is key to maximising the opportunities to deliver value for money.”

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