I'm afraid I missed this year's SOPO Conference but I picked up some of the key messages via Twitter postings. Now I find it fascinating that two entirely different messages were presented to delegates. Jon Hughes, Chairman of Future Purchasing, and co-author with Professor Mark Day of a recent high profile report on public procurement (which can be downloaded at www.deficit-reduction.com), was tweeted by @AngelineAlbert, to have told the local government buyers that demonstrable procurement competence is thin on the ground. Then this morning @Steve_bagshaw, editor of Supply Management tweeted that John Connell, Head of local assets and procurement at DCLG said words to the effect "Whitehall's view of local government buyers must change, because it is local and not central government purchasers who 'lead the way in best practice".
Can these two commentators versions be reconciled? If not which is true? If Jon Hughes' version is incorrect does it compromise the weight which should be given to his earlier assertion that public procurement has hugh potential but is under-utilised.
Personally I have always held Jon Hughes in high regard and one of the most articulate thinkers on procurement. But having spent many years looking at local government procurement myself I think I can safely say some of local government practice is truly exemplary, but some is lacklustre.
The real challenge to SOPO is to engage with Future Purchasing and the wider research community and provide the demonstrable evidence of exemplary practice which Connell champions. This needs a change of culture and willingness of SOPO members to engage with researchers, something they have not been that enthusiastic about. That engagement could help correctly position local government procurement, for better or for worse.