NECC calls for public sector culture change

PUBLIC sector officials still need to demonstrate a major culture change to help the North East economy avoid a double-dip, according to the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC). 

Despite substantial efforts at the upper echelons of local authority management, firms in the region are still finding it extremely difficult to win work from the public sector.

 NECC believes that despite senior public sector figures getting on board with efforts to make it easier for North East firms to win work, officials on the ground are being too slow to respond to change. The net result is that it is still unnecessarily complex for regional businesses to supply goods and services to public bodies in their area.

 In addition, the anticipated public sector cutbacks – due to be announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review next month – will drive public bodies to be increasingly cost conscious without consideration being given to the knock-on effect this will have on the North East economy.

 NECC fears that unless the officials managing contracts understand the consequences of these actions, it could put the regional economic recovery into reverse.

 NECC conducted a survey of businesses in the region which showed that despite agreements being reached to simplify the process of identifying and applying for contracts, the majority of respondents still say the procurement barriers are too great.

 Some 77% of all respondents said the process of bidding for work was still fairly or very complex. A total of 70% said that the documentation was not as simple as it could be and an equal number said that there was a lack of consistency among councils buying in similar services.

 One bright spot was a growing sense that businesses were being paid more promptly for the work they did deliver.

 NECC has been running a concerted public procurement campaign, called Buy North East, for nearly three years which has resulted in a number of significant alterations to the procurement process. These include:

  • A new set of harmonised documents – making it easier for firms to apply for tenders
  • Improvements to the North East Purchasing Office website – helping suppliers find links to more public procurement opportunities in the region
  • New training programmes for suppliers – providing more sophisticated and co-ordinated workshops helping firms to be more successful when pitching to win work

 Ross Smith, NECC head of policy, said: “There has been considerable hard work behind the scenes to improve the way councils in particular set about buying goods and services from firms in the region. But, despite a number of significant improvements, these results suggest it has not yet filtered down to the level at which business is being done between the public and private sector.

 “Fundamentally, we need a culture change that sees public procurement as a critical economic development tool for North East businesses. The results of this survey suggest that for whatever reason this hasn’t happened yet, and it will take effective leadership in procurement departments across the region to make that change.

 “Procurement officers are using measures to bring efficiency savings without having real evidence of the consequences on the economy. We need to find that out quickly otherwise procurement will continue to damage opportunities for the North East businesses without public bodies realising it.”

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