NPIA and Procserve to set up national Police procurement eMarketplace
The National Police Improvement Agency (we reported on their uncertain future here) announced last week that they’d contracted with Procserve to provide an eMarketplace for all 43 Police Forces in England And Wales. It will provide access to suppliers in categories such as uniforms, catering, ICT and vehicles. As the Press Release said, this will:
- Improve efficiency and procurement processes, providing forces with easy access to pre-loaded best value contracts, simple connectivity to their suppliers, including SMEs (small medium enterprises), and electronic invoicing capabilities
- Provide greater visibility into direct and indirect spend with access to comprehensive management information in a standardised and consistent format
- Greatly reduce spending from unapproved contracts which will lead to significant savings
Congratulations to Procserve, for whom it is a significant win. And it’s a sensible strategy from NPIA. While use of the marketplace isn’t mandated (each Force is VERY independent), it is being funded initially by NPIA – a smart move. The hope is, I suspect, that Forces will see the benefit and then pay themselves if and when initial central funding stops. But there is a less positive precedent. The National Police Procurement Centre of Excellence – ‘PEPS’ – folded in 2007 after just two years of its existence because the Forces wouldn’t pay around £15K each p.a. on average to keep it going. (I remember this well because I set up PEPS. That proved to be 6 months of my life wasted…)
But I expect and hope that this will prove more successful – it looks sensible, in that most of Forces, the Met Police and a couple of others aside, are really of sub-optimal size from a procurement perspective. I was surprised to find Forces with an annual third party spend of only £20 – 30 million, and a procurement team of 2 or 3 people. Leveraging spend and capability across the Service must be the right idea.
The jury is still out (OK, let’s go for a few puns …) on whether the content of the marketplace will add significant value however. You need an arresting proposition for users; so that means the agreements that populate the marketplace must be good. Which brings us back, I suspect (notice that one?) to getting the most out of frameworks. While there may be some committed volume contracts within the marketplace portfolio, it is likely to be mainly framework type agreements (see our current series and White Paper on that hot topic). So Forces need to use best practice in getting value from the frameworks, or they’ll be in the dock for wasting public money…
The Press Release also mentioned SMEs. Hello, ‘ello, ‘ello, I said, when I saw that; how’s this going to benefit SMEs? So I asked NPIA the question and this is how they replied;
- Simple, free access to eProcurement product through Procserve supplier portal (electronic order capture and invoice transmission)
- Quicker payment cycle and less cash flow worries as invoices are automatically cleared for payment
- Access to other public sector buying organisations (increase market share)
- SME dynamic marketplace provides a link to all SME to self register for wider pan government contract and spot order opportunities
They’re all reasonable points; but how are SMEs going to win work? It doesn’t address the charge that more aggregated procurement will lead to SMEs, who previously perhaps supplied just one Force, getting squeezed out in a national deal. So, the Police Service is ripe for more aggregation of demand without a doubt – but, that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, always mean aggregation of supply. (I know, I keep saying that…)
If the Marketplace just leads to national contracts with large national suppliers, then NPIA will be guilty of making life harder for SMEs for whom theoretical benefits of easy registration and access to opportunities through Procserve won’t matter. It shows again the difficult trade off that the public sector – and indeed many organisations in the private sector – have to make between aggregation and some of the ‘sustainable procurement’ issues. And there are no simple solutions; we’ll have to judge this venture on its outcomes.
But coming back to where we started, the initiative is to be generally applauded, and is a good example of why it would be disappointing if the procurement activities of NPIA were sacrificed on the altar of anti-Quango-ism.