Procurement Services at the Scottish Parliament has developed a Responsible Purchasing Strategy, (officially launched in January 2008) that has brought together separate policies and initiatives and identified key priorities to deliver tangible improvements. The objective is to integrate four broad themes into all procurement procedures:
• Professional standards for purchasing staff
• Environmental impact
• Ethical and social issues
• Small & Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) and Scottish suppliers.
Within the Strategy, there is a commitment to hold targeted “Meet the Buyer” events for SMEs and social enterprises and, as part of the communication plan, a commitment to publish case studies on the Scottish Parliament website.
Meet the Buyer
Buying organizations have held traditional ‘Meet the Buyer’ events for some time, where suppliers are invited to attend an open day and given the opportunity to meet the people responsible for the purchase of specific goods and services. Suppliers are therefore able to find out more information about contract opportunities and develop a better understanding of the buying organization’s procurement policies and procedures.
The Scottish Parliament initially followed this traditional format, inviting suppliers to attend an annual event, which included keynote presentations on procurement policy, Responsible Purchasing and practical tips for tendering. Suppliers were also given the opportunity to book one-to-one meetings with purchasers to discuss specific contract opportunities coming up within the next year, and to network with other suppliers at the event. The events allowed purchasers to gain a better understanding of market capabilities as part of the procurement strategy research phase and provided suppliers with early notification of forthcoming tendering opportunities.
The events were well attended and received positive feedback; however, it proved challenging to accommodate demand for one-to-one meetings, (despite being limited to 15-minute slots). The limited time slots however, proved to be insufficient to enable any meaningful exchange of information; an explanation of the procurement processes alone could take more than 15 minutes!
Following several requests from suppliers to learn more about the public procurement process and supplier feedback demonstrating how well received the practical tips sessions were, Procurement Services developed a more interactive format that would allow suppliers to “participate” in the procurement process and interact with other suppliers, thereby learning from each other’s experiences.
The original presentation has been developed into two workshops – one for quotations and the other for tenders. Both commence with a short presentation on the key points to consider for each route, including: an outline of the relevant procurement process; how to identify opportunities at the outset; the purpose of the pre-qualification stage (for tenders); tips on how to submit a credible bid (using examples of actual good and poor responses); and the benefits of a de-brief following the procurement process to understand areas of particular strength or weakness and apply the lessons to the next opportunity. The presentation is followed by a syndicate exercise where suppliers are arranged into smaller groups to participate in a mini quotation / tender exercise (syndicate papers available on request).
Suppliers are provided with a brief specification for a straightforward requirement and a short schedule of questions to be completed either individually or as a team. Suppliers then exchange responses and are provided with the purchasers’ evaluation guidance to score the responses. This exercise provides suppliers with a better understanding of the evaluation process and what is required. The workshop then concludes with a question and answer session where suppliers can ask questions of the Procurement Services team on the syndicate exercise, the procurement process or Scottish Parliament contracts. This open approach has been very well received, with suppliers commenting on how useful it is to be able to ask questions in a more informal situation and to hear the perspectives and thoughts of other suppliers.
This is also a more mobile / flexible format, easy to adapt to the audience and has been successfully delivered to several groups of suppliers including social enterprises, Small Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs), and larger suppliers. Procurement Services has also been invited to deliver presentations and the syndicate workshops to a range of organizations including the Sustainable Development Research Centre’s conference in Inverness November 2008, the Forth Sector’s tendering workshop in Edinburgh City Chambers April 2009, the Government Opportunities SME Annual Conference in Thistle Hotel Glasgow April 2009. We have also delivered workshops at the Social Enterprise Trade Fair S2S conference at Corn Exchange Edinburgh April 2009 and at the Procurex Conference in October 2009.