Every public sector body needs a ‘procurement entrepreneur’

The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) has proposed that all public authorities, including central government…...

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The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) has proposed that all public authorities, including central government departments, should engage a “public entrepreneur”. These employees would know “how to hustle” in order to drive innovative procurement transformation projects.

A new study by the RSA with Innovate UK (Move fast and fix things: how to be a public entrepreneur) found that poor procurement was leading to financial waste in the public sector and a failure to identify effective remedies for pressing social problems. While the study concedes that areas of innovation do exist across government, it also states that the procurement entrepreneur’s role would help to ensure that these are smoothly extended into all departments.

The new entrepreneurial procurement professional could take responsibility for the sourcing and purchasing of innovative remedies for social issues, such as obesity and the ageing population. The new role, the report states, would be characterised by “the private sector archetype of the start-up founder who knows how to hustle, fail fast and win over audiences.”

The study is upbeat about the prospects for procurement transformation in the public sector and takes issue with the familiar caricature of the state as “a slow, lumbering, bureaucratic machine.” Instead, its emphasis is on finding “the people, processes and practices in government that are ‘moving fast, and fixing things’ and demonstrating a new kind of public entrepreneurship.”

It holds up Sutton Council’s head of strategic business, the Chief Digital Officer at Invest Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Adult Safeguarding Partnership’s lead as exemplars of good practice. These professionals are driving new outcomes-focused, modernised processes in each of their domains.

Commenting on the report, the RSA’s Director of Innovation, Rowan Conway, acknowledged that helping procurement professionals to be entrepreneurial with public money wasn’t easy. This is largely because a culture of risk aversion runs so deep while the incentives to innovate are feeble.

Yet, after the collapse of Carilion, she said, a new approach was needed for directing public spending toward remedying social problems, rather than mindlessly relying on the same big providers.

Nick Ford

Nick has over 30 years procurement experience in consulting, outsourcing and line roles within industry with international experience across many sectors and industries and led many procurement programs with blue chip organisations.

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