With the ‘low-hanging fruit’ exhausted, the public sector must approach new government saving targets with a radically different attitude, says AECOM

With the UK resolutely in the grips of austerity, there is an opportunity for a fundamental rethink of the way public services are procured. After years of spending reviews, organisations have all but exhausted the low-hanging fruit and further savings will require true transformation of service delivery.

Preparing for the future will therefore require more strategic and radical thinking. Yet after years of headcount pressures, the public sector may need to look elsewhere to plan for and drive through the scale of change required. The current skills shortage requires government to support both the public and private sector in developing the organisational skills, behaviours and capacity to drive the commercial and delivery outcomes.

There is a rich opportunity for public and private sector people to collaborate to overcome the hurdle of motivation – ultimately the public sector has to want to make the change. Either sector in isolation, without a questioning approach, simply will not achieve the required transformation in the delivery of public services. It is essential the UK has the right skills in the marketplace, particularly in sectors where there is high demand. Take infrastructure, where the government has an ambitious pipeline of major projects and recognises the need for nearly 100,000 additional construction and engineering workers.

Engagement with the market is key to delivering transformational changes in public services, and procurement plays a significant role. Through procurement, government is able to access the market, bringing in private sector expertise to add innovation and fresh-thinking to change programmes; engaging with people with experience of the harsh realities that make change necessary. Experience and lessons learned from around the world are beneficial to implementation, as are opportunities to apply experience from other sectors, which are all critical when implementing change. A valuable benefit of public and private collaboration is the learning that can be gained from involvement in an active process, tangibly assisting the requirement for government support to grow organisational skills.

Any reconfiguration of the way services have traditionally been delivered brings risk. With responsibility for public funds, there is no question the sector must operate within strict boundaries of governance, however, to drive enhanced value, a reimagining of risk is key to overcoming the challenges that lie ahead. All too often risk is identified as managing problems when they occur but what if service delivery could be conducted so that the risk were mitigated from the outset? This behavioural change requires a cultural shift. Appropriate private sector support will be instrumental in making it happen – the opportunity to collaborate is now.

AECOM’s breakout session, Delivering Value in a Skills-deprived Age of Austerity: Using Procurement as a Platform for Change, can we Reimagine the Concept of Risk?, is at 12 noon at The Public Sector Procurement Summit on 10th November

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