From zero to hero… responsible procurement in Manchester

Kevin Casey and Ian Jarvey, in charge of procurement at The University of Manchester, discuss making procurement more responsible

The New Year is traditionally a time of reflection; what did we achieve? What will the year ahead look like? How can we improve further? Well, 2014 was quite a year for our Central Procurement Team as we set ourselves a considerable challenge, namely to achieve Level 4 on the Flexible Framework in only six months. We wanted to really create some momentum and push ourselves hard, which we certainly did!

Why responsible procurement?

Social responsibility is one of three core strategic goals in our Manchester 2020 strategy, sitting equally alongside our commitments to World-class research and outstanding learning and student experience.

As part of this approach, five social responsibility priorities have been identified; one of which is responsible processes. As a major purchaser of goods and services both locally, nationally and internationally. Clearly this scale of institutional ambition puts the work of the Central Procurement Office under the spotlight!

Another social responsibility priority is environmental sustainability which sees us working hard across The University to consider not only how we protect natural resources and reduce the negative impacts that products or services we procure have but also how we can use our purchasing power to add value and maximise positive contributions too. 

So where did we start?

Well firstly, we got some help! We knew we would need some training but rather than simply buying an ‘off-the-shelf’ package we opted to find someone to work with us, helping us to develop our own approach to our procurement practices. Having an experienced and critical eye helping along the way has been important to maintain momentum and offer external perspectives.

We knew the Flexible Framework had been developed to focus on key areas of procurement; policy and strategy, people development, the procurement process, supplier engagement and measurement of impact, and this provided a sensible starting point and gave us a direction of travel.

What were our key challenges?

Demonstrating real progress in relation to responsible procurement has previously been something we have struggled with, being very clear about our ambition was an important first step. We also realised that our progress with the Flexible Framework had previously been hampered because we were starting in the wrong place! Being able to re-focus our efforts on a more ambitious action plan meant that progress soon followed.

The workload of our busy team was not reduced to enable us to concentrate on responsible procurement; rather we developed an approach that integrated responsible procurement into the practices of an excellent procurement team. By embedding the approach in this way the training undertaken, the review and refresh of policy or practices was all understood to be part of core business for a team of procurement professionals. This also enabled the work undertaken to be shared across the team.

Lastly, we have also worked closely with colleagues in the Social Responsibility and Environmental Sustainability teams and this has meant we have been able to draw on the expertise of both teams enabling them to work in collaboration to support wider institutional objectives.

What next?

We will very shortly be giving all our suppliers the opportunity to develop their very own sustainability action plan – and in doing so provide us with some fantastic information. If they are just starting out we are hoping the tool will help them decide how to get started and if they are a little more experienced we will be sharing their successes where we are able to. This is shaping up to be a very innovative approach and we look forward to sharing our own learning as it evolves.