Local government purchasing to change post-pandemic

Gavin Rimmington, Head of Public Sector for YPO, shares findings from a YPO and iGov collaborative survey on how local government across the UK responded to Covid-19, some of the learned lessons throughout the pandemic and what this could mean for the future of procurement.

Gavin Rimmington, Head of Public Sector at YPO

Lessons learned

When the pandemic hit, with all of its unique challenges, local authorities were faced with a huge procurement task. The sudden requirement for masses of PPE, a stark increase in the need for food parcels, the need to support the supply chain and pressing technological requirements as a result of working from home are all examples of where additional pressures were faced by procurement teams in local government.

Unsurprisingly, the change in type and volume of products and services being procured led to a shift in procurement practise – for example, 72% of participants in YPO’s ‘Responding to Covid-19 in Local Authorities Survey’ reported collaborating more closely with procurement teams as a result of the pandemic.

In response to the pandemic, the government announced a number of updates to regulations to support local government procurement teams with the challenges faced.

The research from YPO indicates that more than half (54 per cent) of local authorities across the UK found this support incredibly helpful and effective, with the public sector benefitting from a new type of flexible procurement in response to the pandemic. The majority of local authorities used these emergency measures effectively in the first wave of lockdown, something that could easily be overlooked in the context of predominantly negative national purchasing headlines being made.

Looking forward

There is now light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but the procurement lessons learnt shouldn’t be discarded. 62% of all public sector participants surveyed by YPO agreed that many of the changes and implemented measures brought in to assist procurement at a time of emergency should remain in place as councils return to business as usual.

The way that procurement is valued should, and is, changing. Nearly a third of YPO survey participants felt that procurement was being viewed as a more crucial element within their authority – aligning with how much more of a central role these teams have been playing. Nine out of ten local authorities have stated they are re-evaluating their spend in the wake of the pandemic, highlighting that it’s more important than ever for more procurement professionals to be involved in senior positions. Procurement and commercial teams remain at the heart of the local government response to Covid-19 and are central to the recovery from the pandemic, supporting local economies and supply chain while also contributing to the social value and carbon net zero ambitions.

Mounting pressure

Covid-19 has brought a multitude of issues and demands for local authorities to cope with. Councils have been facing pressures to become more environmentally sustainable, adapt to an increasingly digital world, and diversify revenue streams with small amounts of shrinking resource.

The amalgamation of these factors, and the acceleration provided by the pandemic means that local authorities are facing a period of transition and fundamental change. It is more important than ever to think strategically, further empower procurement and commercial professionals and enable funding to go further with smarter procurement.