Report review: The Art of the Possible in Public Procurement

| Helen Sharp

We believe that innovation in procurement practice is the most likely path to innovation in service delivery

Title: The Art of the Possible in Public Procurement

Authors: Frank Villeneuve-Smith and Julian Blake

Published by: Bates Wells Braithwaite London LLPHCT GroupE3M

Published: Sept 2016

Read the full report here

I know that commenting on a procurement report might not normally excite us and I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to reading this one. However, I have been stunned by how accessible, inspiring, daring and insightful this guidance is. It expertly challenges the notion that procurement is the barrier to progressive commissioning and reassures us that the new regulations are in fact flexible, light touch and supportive of innovation. The truth of the matter is that many procurement departments are reluctant to use them and are sticking with tried and tested ways rather than risking being ‘a bit cute’ or challenged.

This publication is aimed at progressive commissioners and change-makers; it is intended to be a part of a commissioner’s toolkit, providing supporting argument as you seek to drive change in your organisations. Interested?!


There are so many highlights in this report, it is hard to choose the few I have space to share with you, so please read the whole thing – it’ll be worth it.

  • Light touch – as long as you stick to the principles of transparency and equal treatment, you can pretty much design any procurement process you like.
  • Proportionality – this answers my question of why we insist on using the same process to buy building materials as we do, human services. The good news is we don’t have to! The procurement process should be appropriate for what you’re trying to do.
  • Building the supply chain – the most significant reason to be excited about the social sector is the opportunity to build a supply chain that actually shares your essential purpose and values. This makes it possible to procure for the abstract nouns that matter: trust, partnerships and shared journeys.
  • Innovation partnerships – just read about this – it’ll be music to your ears…

So you now have permission to be the maverick and it isn’t even radical. The authors admit to expecting an increase in challenges as suppliers who have enjoyed the status quo lose out to disruptive innovators. But stick to the key principles and commissioners should feel confident in facing down those challenges.

Photo by Anna Dickson

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