Is procurement a friend or foe for local government transformation?

Buying processes should be seen as an enabler of innovation, rather than a barrier, according to Georgina Maratheftis of techUK

Credit: OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

It is an exciting time for local government transformation. 

More and more councils are realising the benefits of digital in helping to not only drive efficiencies, but solve problems and create places where citizens want to live and work. Collectively, local government spends around £2bn per annum on IT, with £1bn of this spent on sourcing and supporting software applications. 

At a recent techUK event, Tussell highlighted that local government awarded over 3,000 IT contracts worth £3.7bn since 2015. However, the local government market can be perceived as complex and hard to navigate. While this is true, local government is unique in the number of lines of business it operates – from zoo licences, to local planning, to waste collection – meaning technology can make a real difference to how services are delivered and ultimately improve the lives of citizens. 

But, how do we ensure local authorities can access the latest innovations, and innovators can provide their solutions to help local public services solve the biggest challenges their communities face? Procurement. 

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Procurement is part of a bigger transformation puzzle. If done well and outcome-focused, it can help stimulate the local government tech market and create places where citizens can thrive and feel safe.

We need to reframe the conversation around procurement processes. Nearly every public sector transformation event I attend, procurement always comes up as a blocker to transformation. From lengthy process to the lack of early market engagement, and the use of central or regional frameworks – procurement processes can vary significantly between local authorities. 

This makes it difficult for new entrants and SMEs to access the market. Latest figures show that only 19% of sales through the G-Cloud framework and 9% via Digital Outcomes and Specialists were to the wider public sector outside central government.

techUK’s Procuring for Innovation and Growth report details efforts over recent years to improve SME access to the sector seem to be working, particularly the Digital Marketplace, with 63% of respondents saying that the G-Cloud framework has helped SMEs access the public sector market. However, the use of centralised frameworks remains low in local government.

The report also highlighted that the lack of pre-procurement industry engagement as an area, if remedied, could make a real difference to SMEs. Early-market engagement can help local government keep on top of the fast pace of technological change. It is also an opportunity to co-design solutions and together interrogate the problem to ensure that when going to tender it is for an outcome, not a solution.

While at times procurement can feel like a foe that is slowing down the adoption of existing and emerging technologies, all those in the local govtech ecosystem have a role to play in ensuring transparent, seamless and appropriate procurement.

This can be early market engagement to articulate the problem and understand innovations in the market or a problem-led procurement exercise where suppliers are clear how their technology can help the local government tech market. 

Instead of talking about procurement challenges, I hope in future we can share how procurement has enabled innovation. The centralised frameworks have gone some way to helping SMEs access the public sector market, but there is more that can be done. 

techUK is conducting a survey to better understand the procurement process when councils purchase technology or a digital service. We welcome hearing from all those involved in the procurement process – from digital leads to commissioning to procurement. In doing this, we hope to enable industry to better engage with local government as well as create a level playing field for SMEs, whilst ensuring councils get the most appropriate and competitive solutions for them and their users.

We hope from this survey we can support both public and private sectors as they realise the opportunities of procurement. This work forms part of our commitment as co-publishers of the Local Digital Declaration. We’d love to hear from council digital and procurement leads as part of this survey and hope you are able to complete the survey and help transform the conversation around public sector procurement to a positive one. 


Sam Trendall

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