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Supporting the public sector through austerity

With Britain still in austerity, public sector bodies face increasingly difficult times, both financially and operationally. Despite funding gaps getting larger, the demand for new schools, hospitals and leisure facilities continues to grow. Robbie Blackhurst, Framework Director of Procure Partnerships, discusses how the private sector can better support the public sector in times of austerity and how procurement frameworks have the opportunity to be the catalyst for greater cross-sector unison.

Construction in the public sector delivers the buildings we need most; schools, hospitals and affordable housing. Despite their value to our communities, it’s these projects that often face the biggest hurdles in being delivered, mainly due to financial restrictions. Years of austerity in the UK have meant that local authority budgets have been cut significantly, and they continue to be, meaning that funding gaps continue to increase.

So, should the private sector do more to support the public sector in today’s economic climate to avoid community buildings being scrapped completely, or worse yet, not being designed to their full delivery potential owing to budgetary constraints?

Financial support

With budgets slashed, the price of the project has become the first thought for public sector bodies. As such, many are forced to seek contractors with the lowest prices which can affect the quality of the build. Carillion’s downfall serves as a caution of this approach, with the contractor setting unrealistic prices to maintain a seemingly healthy pipeline.

Procurement frameworks can safeguard the public sector in times when avoiding risk is paramount, providing a level of protection to local authorities and other public sector bodies whilst still being able to offer demonstrable value for money.

By offering a ‘mini-competition’ as the basis of contractor selection, clients can select from a pre-vetted group of providers which facilitate a quick decision but with the experience to deliver within their required project sector and value band. As well as minimising client risk, frameworks should accept a greater responsibility to support the public sector financially too.

Of course, we can help in small ways, by not charging clients to use frameworks, but we have the chance to make a bigger impact. Funding gaps are delaying vital projects from getting off the ground, and the private sector could do more to enable them. In order to help unlock schemes, Procure Partnerships offers public sector bodies access to free grant funding through the Strategic Procurement Fund. Funds like this will help to deliver strategically feasible projects that have struggled to get backing and avoid placing public sector bodies under further strain.

Collaboration is key

However, it’s not just about channelling money into the public sector and getting things built. Ensuring that projects are feasible comes back to a need for more comprehensive cross-sector support and collaboration. Frameworks have the potential to be the ‘middle ground’ between clients and contractors, encouraging more cross-sector collaboration and communication between parties.

For too long, the public sector has been overlooked in the procurement process, and we must do more to listen to the organisations and people within it. At Procure North West, we’ve engaged extensively with the public sector, identifying procurement frustrations and addressing them fully.

Although cost will remain a priority for the public sector, the power of collaboration should not be underestimated. Lending our full support financially, and through project delivery support and detailed reporting, the buildings we need will not only be built safely and to high standards, but public sector bodies and contractors will be protected financially, avoiding the bleak outcomes that the sector has, unfortunately, become all too aware of recently.