Thursday, 20 December 2012

Calderdale Guide to Public Sector Procurement

Calderdale Council Business Growth programme has issued a new guide to public sector procurement for SMES.

This can be found on the web at

Although it is designed for companies in the Calderdale Council region, it is accessible from anywhere and the information is relevant for any UK company.

Friday, 7 December 2012

New date for Engineering Meet the Buyer

We have now arranged the Calderdale Engineering Meet the Buyer for Thursday 28th February 2013 at the Shay in Halifax.  The event will be run in conjunction with Calderdale & Kirklees Manufacturing Alliance (CKMA), and be free for businesses in Calderdale.

More details to follow.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Calderdale Meet the Buyer postponed

The Meet the Buyer event in Calderdale scheduled for 21st November 2012 has been put back until early in 2012 - probably February. That's the bad news. The good news is that the delay is allowing us to bring in some new additional Buyers, including at least one very large company.
Also at the same time we shall be announcing plans for 2 or 3 further events focussing on different industry sectors.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Calderdale Meet the Buyer

More information about the Meet the Buyer event we are running on 21st November 2012.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The West Coast Mainline Debacle

The shambles over the awarding of the West Coast Mainline contract is the big public sector procurement story of the moment.

The story is being covered in a number of places - Peter Smith at Spend Matters has covered it a number of times, including providing links to the original tender (if you are interested enough).  Robert Peston over at the BBC has of course also commented.

Rather than rehash entirely, I will just make a few points.  Peter Smith has pointed out that there are 3 possibilities - first that the process was flawed, secondly that the correct process was not followed correctly, and finally that something changed somewhere through the process.  The current line is that it is the first problem, and that the fault lies with the civil servants who set up process.  Some of them are disputing that.

I think the first thing to say is that the problem in many people's eyes was the result, regardless of the process.  If the process had been flawed but awarded it to Virgin there would not have been this fuss.  People I know who use the service are happy with Virgin and concerned about changin - even if First are promising a better service.  We all know that people are very reluctant about change - even for the better (see Machiavelli).  This allowed Richard Branson to create the fuss which lead to the review which got us to the current situation.  I do not believe First group would have been able to achieve that.

If it is the wrong process, then we have to understand why.  There are suggestions that it was wrong assumptions about Risk - which is part of the process, not how it was applied.  It is a very long contract (15 years) and all assumptions about what will happen over the length of the contract are speculation ("It's difficult to make predictions - especially about the future" - Yogi Berra).  What will the oil price be in 2027? Which party will be in power?  Will we have superconducting electricity distribution?  Will we have self driving cars?  All of these could have impacts on both demand and delivery of train services.  So, it is tricky.

As to why we should compensate bidders for the cock up in the process - we want them to bid again in future, and the fault was ours (the public sector) not theirs.  EU procurement law allows them the potential recovery of the damage to their company resulting from the mistake, so they are due compensation.  The costs will in any case in some way be charged to the public purse - through higher fees if not a direct payment.

This one is going to rumble on and on.  Sadly there is a great risk it will be a political football rather than a learning opportunity. 

The one lesson I would like the government to take from this is that procurement is important, and needs to be supported to ensure value for money and efficiency.  It is not just a cost.

Robert Peston's blog at the BBC is here.
Spend Matters latest post on the matter is here

BTW the illustration is not a Virgin train but an old Russian train iirc.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Masters of Money

There is a great series being shown on BBC Two on Monday nights - Masters of Money, presented by BBC Economics editor Stephanie Flanders.  See here for a link to the programme on iplayer.

These days it is useful for all of us to know a little bit about economic theory, to help us to decide which approach is most likely to be followed by politicians, and which appoach is most likely to work.  Sadly these are not always the same (whichever party is in power).

This is the sort of stuff that the BBC can point at when justifying the license fee - bringing knowledge to the masses.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Calderdale Manufacturing Meet the Buyer

I am involved in a Meet the Buyer event that is being held in the Calderdale area (around Halifax, UK).  The venue is The Shay (Halifax Town FC ground), on 21st November 2012.
The focus of the event will be on Manufacturing.  More details to follow, but I will be one of the speakers entertaining people whilst waiting for appointments as well as helping to set up and run the event.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Engineering Procurement

Check your diaries and book ahead, I shall be running a one day course for IChemE on Engineering Procurement on Wednesday 23rd September 2013.  Yes, next year not this year (2012).  So you have more than a year to wait.

This course will of course focus on the procurement for the Chemicals industry, in particular for Chemical Engineers.  It is new enough that it is not yet advertised on the IChemE website, and I shall let you know when it is.  Booking is through the IChemE, and the price should be about £500 +VAT for IChemE members, £600+VAT for non-IChemE members (but don't hold me to that).

Monday, 10 September 2012

We live in a Science Fiction World

The pace of change around us is relentless, but often imperceptible.  The other day my son announced he needed a photograph to take to school.  This is a faff, but hardly a major issue apart from the fact that he announced it at about 20 to 9.  After a few seconds of panic, I realised the answer - quick photo on the iphone, then wirelessly print on his printer in his bedroom while he ran upstairs to fetch.  When I was his age the best we could have hoped for was a polaroid, or a photo booth.  Otherwise photographs had to be batched till you get roll developed which took about a week.  (how many were on a roll?  I can't remember).

These changes are hardly life changing, but just a sign of how much things move on and we don't really notice.

Last week there were a couple of inputs on the same topic by Penny Arcade here, and Warren Ellis here.
Let me cut and paste a small section of Warren Ellis's talk...
There are six people living in space right now. There are people printing prototypes of human organs, and people printing nanowire tissue that will bond with human flesh and the human electrical system.
We’ve photographed the shadow of a single atom. We’ve got robot legs controlled by brainwaves. . .
Here’s another angle on vintage space: Voyager 1 is more than 11 billion miles away, and it’s run off 64K of computing power and an eight-track tape deck."

I recently read 25 things you need to know about the future, but Christopher Barnett.   If you don't know what is happening in the 25 areas he discusses, then you owe it to yourself to find out.  Otherwise the future will creep up on you unnoticed even more.  And it is amazing!

Fundamentals of Supply Chain course

I shall be running a 4 day Fundamentals of Supply Chain course 15th to 18th October in Hastings, which is a lovely UK sea side town on the south coast.  This is going to be a small number  of delegates so any one interested in joining in please let me know - it will be a chance to have a course in a really small group and get personnalised support. 

Details are here.

Friday, 31 August 2012

The Final Frontier

I don't really have heroes.  I respect a few individuals, but am often aware that their successes and failures are bound up together in a real human being.  Heroes should be above the normal human failings of vanity, hubris, self centredness, ruthlessness that often accompany the doing of "heroic" tasks.

The nearest I got would probably the recently deceased Neil Armstrong. 
A man who's name is famous around the world, and will probably live on for centuries, but who was almost invisible.  His attitude was that he was a man doing a job - not a hero.  That is heroic, in my book.

Without his achievement, which he pointed out he shared with 400 000 other people who worked on the Apollo programme, I would never have been a Phyicist.  Or spent my life considering a question asked to the 8 year old me by a primary school teacher - is it right to spend so much money (4.4% of USA GDP at the time) on going to the moon when people are starving around the world?

A brave and balanced man (as far as I know).  A role model at least.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Flexible Printed Electronics

I have wittered on for the past couple of years about the exciting prospect of flexible printed electronics as a result of working for PETEC, part of CPI in the North East of England.  What this basically means is that surfaces all around us can become video displays or solar cells.
The BBC technology programme Click has just run a section on this as developed by Plastic Logic as part of their Paperless special.  You can see it here. on iplayer.  It might not be up for long, and might not be accessible outside the UK.  The relevant bit starts about 9:32 into the programme.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Book Review: Intervention - The Battle for Better Business

As the economic continues to bump along the bottom in the UK, there is a continual focus on the ways to increase entrepreneurship and stimulate the economy.  Many of the people who have found themselves outside of regular employment are setting up in business for themselves, creating a new wave of business start-ups.  There is considerable academic (and far from academic) debate about how best to support entrepreneurs, whether we should, and if we do what types of entrepreneur to support.  Should support be focussed on so called “high growth” prospects, which have the capacity to grow rapidly from a few founders to companies employing hundreds?  Should we instead focus support on the large established companies that employ significant numbers of people?  Or are those businesses types of business able to support themselves, and should we focus on the small one man band new entrants to the commercial world?
These arguments are not new, and I have just finished reading a book that covers some of this ground.  Intervention – the battle for Better business (by Elliot Forte) covers the history of the BusinessLink business support group in the UK since its introduction by Michael Heseltine to the effect abandonment of the model under the current coalition government.
In the name of full disclosure I should point out I was both a client of and supplier to a variety of Business Link organisations, and so benefited greatly from their activities during the past 15 or so years.
The book is written by a Business Link insider who obviously valued their activities, and sees it as a shame that they have been closed down to be replaced by a website containing basic business information.  He is hardly uncritical of the way the organisation(s) operated, and in particular the way they had to adapt to constantly changing political priorities.  (one Business Link Operator I worked with closely changed its name, remit and organisation every 2 years for a decade – which was hardly beneficial for productivity).
I tend to agree with his conclusions that Business Links were particularly beneficial for the smaller operators.  There is an argument put forward that most of the information needed to setup and run a successful small business is available on the web – but many people setting up for themselves are practical people who benefit from a conversation rather than trawling through web pages.  For the same reason the excellent books provided by banks to new starts tend to sit on the shelves.  I think these micro start-ups are the ones who benefit from business advisors – but they are exactly the people who do not have the money (or self awareness) to employ one.  The larger and potentially more successful businesses can buy in their own support rather than using a government subsidised service.
Perhaps the biggest problem is the 10 to 50 man business that would benefit from external business advice, but is sceptical of consultants and will not employ them.  Here the Business Links provided a good introduction at subsidised prices, often free.
The book highlights the relatively low cost of Business Links and the large number of businesses that they touched – however lightly.   The current Business Link website largely duplicates and consolidates  information available in other places.  The government is focussing resources on companies with potential for rapid growth through the Regional Growth Fund, which is equivalent to the running costs of Business Links for a decade.  So we are placing quite a large bet on companies meeting their potential.

My concern is that we have a new community of small scale entrepreneurs starting in business during the depths of a recession.  Those that come through this will be the foundations of Britain’s next entrepreneurial community – but many will fail when their redundancy money or savings runs out.  A little bit of government funded support could increase the percentage making it through, and give a stronger business community in the future.  I too think the Business Links were a useful, if far from perfect, contributor to business success in the UK.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Book Review in Supply Management

My book with Stuart Emmett “Excellence in Public Sector Procurement” has been review in Supply Management.  See here.

If I can take the author’s usual creative care in picking out bits of reviews, it describes it as  “a fine book” but would like to see more focus on actual Excellence.  Comments like that are actually very helpful in the plans for a 2nd edition, if there is sufficient interest/demand.

The book itself is available at Amazon here.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

"The future is already here..

it's just not evenly distributed."  William Gibson.

One of my favourite quotes (I shoehorn it into quite a lot of presentations - sorry).

An example of the truth of this can be found in a recent blog entry here, by Mark Evanier - writer of the very funny Groo the Wanderer comics, and much else.    He listed the technology he used on a recent trip that was not available say 10 years ago.  It is an extensive list. 

We often don't notice the incremental changes in our world brought about by technology - apart occassionally to laugh at the huge mobile phones that people carry in 80s movies.  Or is it 90s movies?  We don't notice how the plots of movies have changed because technology means we can send a text message to the Police for help, or something similar.  How would the end of The Italian Job have been if Michael Caine's idea had been "I'll get my phone out and call the Italian AA"?

The world keeps changing.  Do try to keep up.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Further details of Market Research Course 2008

Further details are available by contacting either Paul or Rob. An outline is given in the attached picture.

Sustainable Packaging - 10th May 2012

I have the pleasure of speaking at a Seminar on Packaging Sustainability at the IOM3 in Grantham on Thursday 10th May 2012. 
I started out as a physicist, then slid over to a PhD in Polymer Physics, and onto work for ICI on Polyethylene, Polypropylene, PET and PEN.  During that time I increasingly appreciated the contribution that polymers made to our world, and how much packaging adds to it too.  Packaging, particularly plastic packaging, is seen as a modern scurge to be eliminated.  The good it does in protecting in the value of materials in transit, particularly food, is never mentioned.  The potential for further value from the materials through reuse, recycling or energy extraction is rarely mentioned for anything but glass (and don't get me started on why PP and PET are better than glass).

It is a key, and emotive issue.  But to get real sustainable environmental improvement we need to focus on the real issues, and not just the emotive ones.  The percentage of oil used to make plastics is about 7% last time I checked - of which packaging is only a part.  We burn the rest for heat and in cars.  Of course you can use plastics, and then burn them for heat.  The real issue is use of oil in heating and transport.

Of course with all packaging we should also be aiming to reduce the use (or weight), increase reuse and recycling - and this is not just environmental sense, it is good business sense.  There is no law that says that sustainable packaging has to be a cost to a business when compared to standard packaging, though suppliers may try to convince you to pay a sustainability premium
Anyway, that will be the general tone of my presentation - I'll put it up here when it is finished.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The UK Public Procurement Opportunity

About a year ago the government came up with some large numbers about the potential savings for councils by improved procurement.  The number was widely publicised as over £400 off each council tax bill, about £10bn which is about 20% of UK local authority spend.

These claims have been investigated by Private Eye, and are skewered by Ben Goldacre in his Bad Science blog and column on the Guardian (last year), and by the Local Government Chronicle here yesterday.

The initial piece of research by Opera Solutions was based on just 3 categories at 3 councils, and really is nothing more than a promotional piece pointing out that savings can be possible.  The 20% headline figure was derived from mobile phone rates (and the other 2 categories were only 10% savings).

Now we are probably going to get the political process here saying some combination of;
- the research was valid (no it's not)
- it was only presented as indicative (no it wasn't)
- it is a long time ago and things have moved on (well yes and no).
- this is political point scoring (well, yes but on both sides)
- let's forget about it.

It is not the only set of government promoted data that is under scrutiny  - see Peter Smith of Spend Matters, on the role of SMEs in supplying government.

My point in dragging these things up from other blogs is that this is important.  There are clearly savings to be made in local authority procurement, but they are unlikely to be as easy to realise as is being suggested.  Likewise there are benefits from engaging SMEs in public sector procurement processes, but they take time to delivery value. 

The first victim of the political process (from either side) is truth, in the form of accurate data.  But without accurate data we cannot make good procurement decisions and set appropriate strategies.  I hope (probably in vain) that all sides will recognise the need for good, clear, accurate data about public procurment.  It will take time and money to gather, but it should pay back the costs many times over in savings.  Just not £10 bn worth.  Probably.  I don't know.  I'd have to look at the data.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Principles and Practice for Public Procurement

CIPS and NIGP have combined to come up with  a set of Principles and Practices for Public Procurement, which should be applicable on a global basis.  They have worked with a range of practitioners (not including me) to develop them, including people from outside North America and the UK.  They are available for free here

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Whistle Blower - Michael Woodford

Very interesting article in Business Week about Michael Woodford, briefly CEO of Olympus.
Most of us are positive about standards in business life, but I can't help but wonder how many of us would have had the strength of character to push for full disclosure of wrong doing in the face of possible death threats.  As he says, "I had no idea I was walking into a John Grisham novel".
Article here

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Kindle edition of Excellence in Public Sector Procurement

There is now a Kindle edition of our book Excellence in Public Sector Procurement available through Amazon.  This has the twin advantages of being both lighter and cheaper than the print edition - assuming you already have a Kindle of course, though you can also read it on PCs and smart phones using the Kindle App.

File on 4 - a Bridge too far

BBC Radio 4 File on 4 have a programme about European Public Procurement available on Iplayer from Tuesday night (20th March 2012), repeated on Sunday 25th March 2012.  Should be interesting.  Click to go to the site.

Also available as a blog on I-tunes

Monday, 12 March 2012

£6n government spend with SMEs - follow up in Yorkshire Post

There was a follow up article in the Yorkshire Post on Sunday building on what was said at the Public Procurement Briefing held in London on 9th March 2012.  It used a few more comments from my interview with the YP, and can be seen here.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Public Procurement Briefing, 9th March 2012

I was not invited (and no reason why i should have been), but I pretty much support one of the views being presentated at the event by Mark Thompson.

I do hope that this is the beginning of a real focus on smes in public procurement.  The government continues to say good things, but in their progress report while they report real progress they use weasel words about involving smes in the supply chain to government.  It is not really something they should claim as their success, and could at worst be seen as passing the buck to their suppliers.  To be watched with care.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

SMEs still miss out on Public Sector Contracts

Today's Yorkshire Post (Thursday 8th March 2012) contains an article about SMEs and public procurement with extensive quotes from me.   My summary is that the government is talking a good game but more needs to be done to make sure it actually delivers the engagement with SMES that will benefit our economy.

The article is here

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Keep that thought

Like many people I am often trying to juggle several different projects at the same time.  Currently, there is a sourcing project, a raft of new courses, work on contract management, and a major programme focussing on smes in supply chains that starts in April 2012.  Along with that I have agreed to write two new books (short ones this time) as part of a new range designed by Stuart Emmett (my co-author on Excellence in Public Sector Procurement).

To keep track of these, and any ideas that come along to me, I have a system of paper and electronic folders and a number of project plans and timelines. 

For the books and courses Stuart has an excellent filing system of case studies, news paper clippings and reference documents.  I find that once things hit my filing cabinet they tend to stay there.

So I am experimenting with Evernote, which is an electronic app that syncs across my phone, pcs and laptops and allows me to drop documents, images, web pages  - basically any electronic stuff - into a folder marked with key words.  It seems to be helping with the early stage process of grabbing a lot of things and looking at them until you can see what fits and what does not.  I thought it might be helpful for others too.  It is a freemium programme (free for limited use), and not I am not getting a cut.

Other productivity tools I use are Dropbox, which allows me to sync a folder of documents across my phone, laptops and pcs and is invaluable in allowing me to work on the same document in many different places.  It also reduces the worry for a travelling trainer that I might somehow lose my laptop and presentation - I can always retrieve a copy from my Dropbox.  Again freemium product - you get a limited amount of space free, but have to pay for more.  If you are interested, then we can both get more space for free if I refer you into Dropbox.

As a trainer I frequently subject people to "Death by PowerPoint".  Personally I rather like it, but I know some people hate it.  For a recent (successful) pitch we used Prezi instead, which was a rather more fun and interesting way of showing information.  Again this is free to try, but anyone can see what you produce.  A limited licence is $59/year or $159/year for the full version.  I had an objection to paying for an annual license, but it was pointed out to me that even Microsoft Office has a limited life before it is fundamentally obsolete - isnt that similar to paying an annual license?  Reasonable point.

So now to actually try and use these productivity tools to be productive, rather than blogging about them.  If you want to follow up on Evernote there is an interesting article about it on The Next Web here.

Friday, 24 February 2012

More courses for 2012

I am pleased to announce that we shall be delivering some extra courses in 2012 for our training provider partners.
These are;
Delivering Compliant Evaluation Processes for BIP Solutions - Manchester 20th March 2012, and Leeds 10th April 2012
International Trade and Shipping, for EuroMaTech in Amsterdam, 7-11 May 2012
Supply Chain and Inventory Management for EuroMaTech in Istanbul, 16-20 July 2012, and
Purchasing Negotiations Workshop for EuroMaTech in Dubai, 4th to 8th November 2012.

Booking is through the relevant partner organisation.  I shall be happy to direct you to them if you wish.

Hope to see you on one or more of these events.   The course on compliant evaluation processes is I think very useful for anyone involved in UK Public procurement.  I have been involved in a number of procurement processes that would have benefited from thinking about evaluation in more depth earlier in the tender process.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Amazon link to Excellence in Public Sector Procurement

Monday, 30 January 2012

Advertising the competition

It is a dog eat dog world out there in the global economy at the moment, and so it probably is not a good idea to advertise the competition.

However there are a couple of other Procurement blogs out there that I read, and so I thought in the interests of supporting discussion that I ought to say what they are.

Spend Matters - excellent coverage of music as well as procurement
Dr. Gordy - provocative views on UK public procurement
The PASS Procurement blog - run by my friends at BIP Solutions

Enjoy.  But please come back here too!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Government becomes an office landlord

The government has just announced a scheme where empty office space in public sector properties will be leased to small businesses.   The aim is to encourage entrepreneurship, and strengthen the small business sector whilst helping to generate income from public properties that will otherwise sit idle.  These are laudable aims, but I have strong reservations about the scheme in practice.

Firstly, the government is setting itself up in competition to private sector commercial landlords.  I don’t know about in London, but in much of the country there is no shortage of commercial space available at low rents and flexible about the size and duration of the lease.  It may be a big problem in London, but it is not in Leeds where the scheme was launched, or Bradford where I am based.  In fact there is a problem of too much space chasing too few tenants.  The government offering their surplus space, whilst a reasonable commercial proposition, is likely to end up undercutting the commercial offer (by offering better facilities, infrastructure. decor etc. for the same price) which in the end may lead to a lessening of total space available and in the short term may drive some commercial spaces out of business.

Enough sympathy for the landlords (sorry Ben and Helen, who provide my office space).  The bigger worry to me is that the government is sending a message that start-up businesses need formal office space.  Some do – but they can probably look after themselves.  Obviously manufacturing tends to need dedicated premises, which is one reason it is so hard to start successfully.  Service industries, including retail these days, often do not need their own office until they are large enough to pay for them at commercial rates.  New businesses are often better setting up from the kitchen table or garage until the cash flow is strong enough.  I was based at home for nearly 10 years.  People starting off in business are sometimes seduced by the glamour of setting up, when what they need is to strip out anything that does not generate cash.  A website is a much better investment than an atrium.

Feel free to disagree.