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Guest Blog: A buyer’s perspective on the public sector, as impacted by the coronavirus

Kenny Govan at Meet the Buyer 2019

Kenny Govan, Senior Procurement Officer at Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), wrote a guest blog for the Supplier Development Programme for the month of March 2020.

It is becoming abundantly clear that the impact upon businesses of the COVID-19 virus will be far reaching and may be felt for months, if not years, in some sectors. Whilst it’s true that Public Sector buyers may well carry on offering contracts to the market as they always have, the market they are hoping to engage with has now dramatically changed and in some cases, may never be the same again.

Public Sector buyers that are currently offering contracts may be doing so in markets where organisations have taken the decision to temporarily close, are running with skeleton staff, or with staff that are working from home. This means that many SMEs and supported businesses in Scotland are currently operating businesses that do not have access to the facility to bid as they would normally. Some suppliers are under so much pressure to keep their businesses going that they have no time for anything else. Other suppliers have to operate at greater than usual capacity to meet demands. Still other suppliers are still operating as normal, but have however introduced travel bans to minimise employee contact, so would not be able to fulfil all the requirements of a tender procedure; for example, where a tender offers or mandates a site visit or requires a presentation to be delivered as part of the bidding process.

Many suppliers are trapped between a rock and a hard place: where a business is closed or has been adversely affected by current circumstances, should SMEs risk its long term future by ignoring tender opportunities that are advertised through Public Contracts Scotland? Alternatively, if a supplier has a current contract and is unable to fully comply with its terms, should the business simply stay silent and hope that the buying organisation is understanding?

It would be, to put it mildly, unprofessional for a buyer to simply carry on as “normal” and offer tenders in the same way they always have, and then to wonder why very few bids had been received and of those they did get, why so few tenders were of good quality and offered best value. It is equally true to state that this professionalism must work both ways. Suppliers and current contract holders should be communicating with buying organisations to advise of the barriers which may be preventing them from offering tenders. Any responsible public sector buying organisation, as well as its “Real Buyers” should be looking at their current tenders and future contracts, and making changes to these that are reflective of the coronavirus situation and to proactively help potential and actual bidders. By taking these steps, and encouraging suppliers to seek dedicated support from the Supplier Development Programme, when we all come out of this in the months to come, our hard won relationships will be stronger than ever.

We are all in strange and worrying times. We need to keep calm heads and remain pragmatic, especially with regard to public sector procurement.

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