Malcolm added that he has spent time with a team in the Flanders regional government where innovation-friendly approaches are deeply embedded into procurement. He also noted that UK regions, especially in Wales, were making similar strides. “Their leaderships are changing the culture by recognising procurement as an innovation driver,” he added.
Speakers at the event adding their support to the need for better procurement of innovation included Professor Luke Georghiou, Deputy President of the University of Manchester. “The assumption is that innovation policy belongs to innovation budgets rather than much larger budgets,” he noted. “But the countries that do most in innovation procurement don’t view it as innovation policy: they just do it.”
Professor Elvira Uyarra, Director of the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research said there was positive evidence in the UK of the link between public procurement and private sector innovation. In relation to its impact on the public sector, further research is needed to strengthen the case for behaviour change, she added.
She also pointed out that only 30% of public procurement is carried out at a sub-national level in this country, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development, compared with 64% on average in other advanced countries. A more “spatially sensitive approach to public spending” was needed, she added, “to support levelling up left behind regions”.
Delegates also heard from Professor Jane Lynch of Cardiff University who described the ‘Infuse’ project which aims to promote innovative and sustainable procurement to a wider public sector audience in the Cardiff Capital Region, particularly around accelerating decarbonisation efforts and supporting communities.
“An urgent concern is preparing our future leaders,” she said, introducing a new board game developed by her colleague Dr Oishee Kundu “to provide school children with a better understanding of what a resilient community looks like and how public procurement can play a role in that”.
Also at the conference, Karen Woolley of the Federation of Small Businesses spoke up for the role of SMEs in innovation. “Small businesses are at the forefront of innovation: these are people with incredible ideas, expertise and talent,” she said, adding that many of them want to concentrate on their products and ideas, rather than be overwhelmed with contractual paperwork.
“It is incumbent on those of us working for Government, local authorities or business support organisations to help these businesses get their wealth of knowledge into contracts.”
Read more about the work of the Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre.