Some thoughts on academic air travel and (a) future for conferences

Last week, Albert fired the starting gun on the discussion regarding the climate change impact of academic air travel and put a marker on the sand regarding his participation on any future conferences. Long story short, he is putting himself out of contention for conference engagements that imply flying.

I spent a few years thinking about this and going backwards and forwards with my feelings. On my end, I’m not ready to simply pull the plug completely on academic air travel because I still see them as a valuable part of my work. They are overrated as a content delivery mechanism (it is not efficient or cheap to put so many people in the same room at the same type) but they are invaluable on the social aspect. That has always been the bit I like about conferences the most.

Having said that, I cut significantly cut back my involvement on conferences (in general) for purely selfish motives. I have long stopped doing “pay to speak” kind of conferences which are the conference equivalent of predatory publishing. I also restricted my participation in conferences to 2 per year as each conference carries opportunity costs around the time they take to prepare and the clash with ever increasing work commitments at my university. I have also done so for more prosaic reasons as any conference abroad implies leaving my wife alone with parenting duties and we all know what that tends to do to women’s careers. Plus, after my health problems from 2017 I can no longer work at the same rate as before so I need to be even more ruthless with how I spend my time.

Albert’s plea is genuine and shows a deep level of care about the impact of his decision, not only for his career but also how it would be perceived in the wider academic community. I genuinely do not think his career has anything to suffer from the lack of participation in conferences requiring air travel but it is true that he (and to an extent myself) have reached a level in our careers where we can afford to take measures like this. His based on environmental concerns, mine on family, health and work/life balance. For us, good conferences are cherries on a cake and something we enjoy doing.

Paradoxically, taking this decision now is a easy option (the wide communication of it is not, as he put himself out to dry and inviting criticism) and frankly an option junior researchers might not have, especially due to the social element of the conferences. You show your wares and meet up the important people in your field - those that may be in hiring committees in the future. And my take about social relationships is that everything else being equal, the one with a wider network wins. That, I think, will be the crux of the matter for early career researchers on top of their difficulties on getting funding to go to those conferences too.

But there are things we can do to help out those further down the ladder. The first is when invited offer our place to a junior colleague. I benefited hugely from refusals by more senior people earlier in the career and I have long started to pay it back to the more junior ones.

Then there’s other stuff we can do. Maybe I should restart the Public Procurement Podcast and see who is out there early in their careers and in need of a boost of their profile. Or, as I suggested Albert earlier today on twitter, perhaps design an online only conference. These days I’m watching more and more videos on Youtube (aham gaming videos in case you’re interested) and their quality is excellent. Livestreaming with tools like Twitch is very convenient and way more accessible than in the past. Technology has evolved significantly from the days of the dreaded ‘webinars’ of 10 years ago. Communication with the audience is possible in real time and that can help create the effect of a community.

All this has made me think on how I would do my BARSEA project today in comparison with 2015? The podcast would stay as it is way more mainstream today than then, but instead of doing an ECR day in person I would do it online and keep the videos on Youtube/Vimeo or any other provider of the like.

So, let’s keep the conversation going.

Interview with Francesco Decarolis about reputation and corruption in public procurement

Episode #31 of the best (and only?) podcast about public procurement is up. This time the interviewee is Francesco Decarolis from the Einaudi Centre for Economics and Finance and we spent some quality time talking about reputation and corruption in public procurement, including how a contracting authority nudged contractors to take their reputation more seriously.

Francesco was awarded a coveted ERC Starting Grant and will be doing in depth research in this area for the next few years.

Episode #29 of the PPP with Suvi Taponen is available

I have just uploaded the last episode of 2016 for the Public Procurement Podcast. This time the interview is with Suvi Taponen, Doctoral Researcher at Aalto University School of Business, who also works as a Procurement Consultant. She will defend her thesis entitled ‘Improving the efficiency of public service delivery through outsourcing and management’ in the beginning of 2017, and she has worked previously at Hansel, the Finnish centralised purchasing body.

Episode #28 of the PPP with Baudouin Heuninckx is available

The next instalment of the Public Procurement Podcast is up, this time a relaxed conversation with my good friend Baudouin Heuninckx, Chief Counsel of the Belgian Armed Forces Procurement Division and a part-time academic at the University of Nottingham and also the Belgian Royal Military Academy. He has just published a book on defence procurement as of November 2016 entitled The Law of Collaborative Defence Procurement in the European Union.  

Episode #26 of the PPP with S. N. Nyeck is up

There is a new episode of the Public Procurement Podcast up. This time the interview is S N Nyeck from Canterbury Christchurch University on public procurement governance in Africa.

She is generally interested in the political economy of development and the role that public procurement plays in transforming institutions and societies and recently edited a book entitled Public Procurement Reform and Governance in Africa, published earlier in 2016 by Palgrave Macmillan.

 

Episode #25 of the PPP with Ana Cristina Calderon Ramirez

Episode #25 of the Public Procurement Podcast is out. This time with Ana Cristina Calderon Ramirez from the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance.

We talked about Ana's research in the field of public procurement regulatory and monitoring entities in Latin America and the Caribbean with an emphasis on her (joint) paper entitled 'Elements of public procurement reform and their effect on the public sector in Latin America and the Caribbean', which was one of best at the IPPC 7 conference earlier this year.

Speaking of the PPP, we're apparently the 34th best procurement and logistics podcast, according to this CamCode list.

Some comments to Arrowsmith's Brexit whitepaper

Prof. Sue Arrowsmith put out a whitepaper on the implications of Brexit for the UK's procurement rules. Albert has already provided a general comment on some important issues raised by the paper, such as the feasibility of a completely new procurement legal regime and what could be the transitional arrangements. 

There is not much to add to the first part of the paper - the EEA option is pretty much 'business as usual.' I suspect that EEA or no EEA option, not much will change at regulatory level for the next few years - there are too many sunken costs on the current system to warrant a wholesale change just for the sake of change. As such I will focus my commentary in other topics instead.

 

1. The GPA option 

While I agree with the view that the UK would find itself out of the GPA the possibility of speedy re-entry into the agreement is certainly possible as argued by Arrowsmith, it is by no means a given. In a scenario where the UK is negotiating multiple trade deals at the same time any other State will use whatever leverage it can over the UK to achieve concessions elsewhere. Access to the procurement markets within the GPA may well be thrown into the mix of the negotiations, if only because it devalues the commitments made by a UK-less EU. At this stage we should not take for granted that re-joining the GPA will be a 'walk in the park' and to that end I would recommend the sage commentary by Jean Heilman Grier on this topic. As she mentions, the UK would have to negotiate first with the EU the terms of its arrangement and only then the GPA's accession. This could leave the UK with a potentially long GPA-less transitional period.

 

2. Transition period

Arrowsmith suggests that for a transition period '[a] sensible and likely interim solution would, therefore, be to retain the award procedures of the regulations in place, but without provision for enforcement by non-domestic suppliers, pending eventual confirmation, modification/replacement or total repeal of the regulations [...].' I agree with the overall view that the UK must have a tat-for-tat approach to the negotiations (as do the other Member States) to protect its own interests. In this I disagree with Albert's view as restricting access to procurement markets if temporarily is a way to gain some negotiation leverage which I accept is a price to pay in that period.

Having said that I am not entirely sure about the actual suggestion made: i) is it EU/EEA economic operators are entitled to take part in procurement procedures but cannot enforce the rules - as it currently happens with foreign economic operators; or ii) is it that they simply are barred from taking part in procurement procedures? I can understand the second (although retribution would be certain) but cannot understand the first. What would be the point of having economic operators taking part in the procedure only for them not to be able to enforce the rules? Plus, if awarded the contract would they also be barred from enforcing the contract terms under English contract law?

 

3. The Freedom option

In addition, Arrowsmith suggests that '[...]Brexit would see the UK throw off the shackles of EU procurement law, leaving it free to design its own system.' In other words, the UK could finally design its own procurement legal system as it sees fit. While Arrowmsith's preference for a more simpler, single system based off the Utilities Directive are not new, as is a preference for higher thresholds, but describing current EU rules as shackles that need to be thrown off appears to be. Especially if we agree with Arrowsmith's view that Member States have a wide range of discretion in transposing Directives into their national legal systems. As other Member States have used such discretion (sometimes to the point beyond discretion in my view) why has the UK not done so?

After all it is the UK's Government approach to transpose Directives (in general) with a copy out approach and with as few options as possible, thus leaving scope for national/regional rules to be created. The responsibility such national/regional rules are not created in the first place can only be attributed to the respective Government(s). If Portugal, Spain, Italy, Denmark have detailed rules crafted for their own realities, why doesn't the UK do the same? I am not positing those are great legal systems, but at least in those countries lawmakers have made use of their powers in transposition to adapt Directives to the national setting. In short: it can be done.

So, even with a (possible) wide discretion, the UK Government has not opted to implement its own national rules, with the exception of the baby steps taken with contracts below thresholds - where it could regulate them at will as it would not be transposing any Directive. On the other hand, as recognised by Arrowsmith the Scottish Government has taken the opportunity to create its own 'regional' procurement regime in addition to the narrow transposition of the appropriate Directives. However, as correctly pointed out by Arrowsmith, the downside of this freedom to legislate at regional level is an increase in 'regional differences'. These, in my view and based on my own experience, will amount to protectionist measures designed to keep out 'foreign' economic operators, ie those based in another UK region. Therefore, I fear it is much more likely we would end up with a patchwork of regional systems than with the simpler, more efficient system Arrowsmith would like to have.

Finally, as for the simpler, more efficient system that could be designed outside of the EU shackles (setting aside the fact it can be designed inside/below them) it would seem our starting positions are on polar opposites. Arrowsmith appears to prefer a system with more discretion given to the contracting authority and fewer rules, so they can design whatever procedure they might want in compliance with a set of limited principles. I am the first to recognise the current rules limit truly great procurement, but they do so as a trade off - not to shackle the top 1% of contracting authorities (or procurement officers) but as a way to provide enough detail so that all contracting authorities can use them. That does not mean they cannot be improved, but it is important to recognise this trade off. And I will take a set of detailed rules that avoid really bad procurement (or try to) for most people, most of the time over ones which only suit the top 1%. 

There are other downsides to a simpler, less prescriptive system. For example, compliance costs would go up for the economic operators - instead of learning one set of rules/procedures, they would have to analyse the specific rules of every single procurement procedure as even within each contracting authority different departments/officers may prefer to do those things differently. Again, I prefer standardisation as a means to reduce transaction costs overall than the discretion to tweak each procedure to suit the contracting authority.    

In addition, if we look at the contracts below-thresholds, where such simpler approach would make more sense and where currently there are no legal restrictions, why are we currently not seeing great practice being developed? Other than the pilots I ran in Wales a few years ago and the excellent work being done by the Government Digital Service and the Digital Marketplace, are there any other examples we should be looking at? Is it not surprising that the most common practice below thresholds for a long time was a preference by contracting authorities to either just use the restricted procedure with all the transaction costs it entailed or going for non-transparent request for quotes - as those were the reality overworked procurement officers knew. Sticking to the tried and tested approach is always the default even if a careful consideration would say otherwise when there is no time or incentive to carry out such consideration. In essence, these default approaches explain why Central Government contracting authorities are under the obligation of advertising contracts above £10,000 and the baby steps to regulate contracts below-thresholds in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.

In conclusion, even if possible, I fear a simplified, looser regulatory system would leave most stakeholders (contracting authorities, economic operators) worse off most of the time. While it could (theoretically) facilitate great practice in some instances, my experience in practice leads me to a bearish view on the overall merits of such a regime.  

 

4. Remedies

A final short word on remedies.  Arrowsmith is of the opinion that the current remedies system is 'burdensome.' As such, a freedom option should also consider a review of the current remedies system '[...] that offers a better balance between the costs and benefits of legal enforcement [...].' This point is particularly interesting as on p.13 Arrowsmith correctly highlights one of the problems of the current remedies system to be the UK's preference for the High Court. This is very true but, once more, it is not really the EU legal system fault's for the UK's design of its remedies system. Even within the EU legal framework it is possible to think different.

If we look at Sweden we see a competition authority with strong powers in this are. Denmark also has its own competition authority and the Procurement Boards which deal specifically with procurement matters. After a couple of run ins with the Court of Justice Spain has today a fast, efficient and cheap (for the time being) system of procurement tribunals. In Portugal, as the administrative courts are clogged up with procurement disputes the draft Public Contracts Code explictly accepts the parties may recur to arbitration instead. 

Outside the EU we can find another system which I find very appealing and would probably fit within the current rules: Canada and its Procurement Ombudsman.  Here's an interview with the then Ombudsman Frank Brunetta about his office's work. It is not hard to conceive a scenario where the current Mystery Shopper Service would be transformed into a true Ombudsman-type service with stronger powers than today. Again, this would be perfectly possible within the current rules.

 

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, I agree with Albert's view that most of the debate we can have at the moment is theoretical. Nonetheless, there is a value in having these discussions as they can influence decisions taken down the line. Having said that, I would like to see the same interest and energy in debating how we can improve practice (and national/regional rules) within the current legal framework. It is likely it will stay mostly unchanged for a good while and there is the odd chance they will actually not change at all. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New episode of the Public Procurement Podcast is up

I have just uploaded episode #24 of the Public Procurement Podcast. The interviewee this time is Warren Smith, Director of Warren Smith, Director, Digital Marketplace part of the Government Digital Service.

We talked at length about the changes in digital procurement the UK Government is curently undertaking, some that already happened and others which will be happening in the future like the adoption of the Open Contracting Data Standard.

You can subscribe to the PPP directly on iTunes.

Episode #22 of the public procurement podcast is up

I uploaded episode #22 of the Public Procurement Podcast to its website yesterday. The interivewee is Willem Janssen, Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the Public Procurement Research Centre of Utrecht University and Twente University. His PhD researches the influence of EU public procurement law on the performance of services by cooperating public authorities and the issues of regulating and enforcing the make-or-buy decision of public authorities. 

You can subscribe to the PPP on iTunes.

Public Procurement Podcast is back!

 

I have just uploaded episode 21 of the Public Procurement Podcast, interviewing Petra Ferk (Graduate School of Government and European Studies) to the PPP website. We talked at length about electronic procurement in the EU, particularly the current legal framework introduced by Directive 2014/24/EU.

This is the first episode of the second season and I will be posting a new one every two weeks except for August. Next on the line is Willem Janssen from Utrecht University. 

The show is available for subscription on iTunes, and if you want to give it a helping hand please consider rating it there.

Reflections on Season 1 of the Public Procurement Podcast

Season 1 of the Public Procurement Podcast wrapped up earlier this month, so now is the time to reflect on the experience. In one year I since getting the go ahead, the website went up and so did 20 interesting interviews with (mostly) early career researchers in public procurement. Here are my learning points:

1. Interview preparation is key

I have plenty of experience running interview podcasts, but sometimes it is important to look back to the basics to get them right. Of the 20 PPP interviews I know which ones are my favourites and they all have something in common: those are the ones I put in an extra effort to know the interviewer well in advance, especially what he/she wrote about. This is not news for me: I remember feeling the same 5 years ago with ShowcasePT and before that with my Ph.D. Bottom line: good prep leads to good interviews.

2. The more focused the better

Interview prep also helps in making the interview tighter and more focused, something particularly important when the chat is lasting only 20 or 30 minutes. The more focused the discussion, the better the outcome.

For each interview I discussed with the interviewee in advance the general questions/topics we would explore in the talk. Sometimes that worked really well, sometimes we just veered into the woods. But that is important as I do not like to set interviews in rails and prefer a degree of free flowing which occurs naturally in a conversation.

3. Evergreen content leads to good audience numbers

I am huge fan of "evergreen" content, ie interviews where the content is not time sensitive like news interviews. The PPP follows this strategy on purpose, with only a limited number of interviews being a little bit more time sensitive. For the most part, the interviews will still be relevant in 2-3 years down the line and that is a good thing. Anyone coming across the podcast or the website in the meanwhile will benefit from content which is as relevant as when it was published.

To add value to the content I decided from the start to have transcripts, something different from my previous podcast forays. I picked up this idea from someone who does interview podcasts much better than myself and is using transcripts for ages: Andrew Warner from Mixergy. He explained to me once that lightly edited transcripts add value as with the same content you are providing something extra and enlarging the audience by reaching people who would not listen to the podcast in the first place. I think he's right and the transcript text surely helps Google index my content and raise the search profile of the PPP website.

So what about those numbers? Well, we're now up to 670 regular listeners (monthly hits on the podcast RSS feed) and the usual weekly number is around 250-300. Individual visits to the website are also quite good: 400/month in the last 3 months and an average of 208 since launch. Frankly, numbers are much higher than originally anticipated. Not bad for a niche product.

4. Always use the right equipment and on the right conditions

It really helps to use the right equipment to record a podcast. All interviews were done via Skype. My usual set up is a Rode Podcaster, connected to my trusty 2009 Mac Pro with the recording done via Audio Hijack. I do not do anything fancy to my room other than having a sound absorber of sorts and closing the window blinds to minimise reverb. The audio is always recorded in separate tracks so that the audio editor can mix/edit as appropriate. 

I was out and about for two interviews and had to record with a travel mic on my Linux laptop. It worked ok, but the sound quality on my end was not as good as in all other interviews. Plus, speaking to pillows sitting on a shelf to absorb ambient noise is not really fun.

5. Getting the right team on board really helps

I was very lucky with everyone involved in the podcast's production. Amy did an awesome logo and Cody did a great job in setting up the website on Squarespace. On the day to day running of the podcast Richard Pennington (audio editor) and Adele Herson (transcriber) were always on the ball making sure their bit was done on time and professionally. As for the last two I have to confess hating editing my own podcasts in the past and transcribing my PhD interviews. Having them on board released my time to more profitable activities and mental bandwidth for what I really like to do: talk with people about interesting topics.

What's next?

I would like to run a second season of the podcast, probably with a broader set of interviewees than season 1. There are a lot of people involved in procurement which are not early career researchers which would be great to interview: more senior academics, practitioners, policy makers, service providers and procurement professionals. There is a lot to talk about in procurement.

Now if only I could find someone to replace the kind support of the British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award for Season 2...

Links I Liked [Public Procurement]

1. The first season of the Public Procurement Podcast is almost over and interview #19 with Stephan Litschig is now up. The final interview will go live later this week.

2. A good post mortem of the Coalition's Government "SME friendly" public procurement policy. Interesting analysis from Stephen Allot who was the Crown Representative for SMEs. Full of praise for G-Cloud and another example how moving procurement online actual makes life easier for SMEs (as I have argued for many years). On G-Cloud SMEs win 50% of the business (!).

3. 18F Launches Acquisition Innovation Pilot. Looks like (yet another) great idea by 18F and another example how procurement can be done differently in this day and age. Looks like a refined version of what I piloted back in 2011-13 with Welsh local authorities.

4. Tech trends and the future of local waste services. Plenty of scope to use data to improve wast management and thus, procurement.

5. White House Seeks Feedback on GitHub for Government-Wide Open Source Software Policy.

Launching the Early Career Researcher Public Procurement Conference (March 4th, London)

We will be holding a one day conference for Early Career Researcher Public Procurement Conference at the Centre for Transnational Legal Studies in London on March 4th. 10 Early Career Researchers will have the opportunity to present their research on a non-threatening environment, benefiting from presenting at a leading international conference early in their career and getting expert commentary on their research. We are looking for promising researchers passionate about public procurement irrespective of disciplinae and interested in engaging with a non-specialist audience.

In addition, the conference will include a ‘speed-dating’ mentoring session in the afternoon, allowing for the beneficiaries to expand their personal networks and helping the development of their career plans. Participants are also invited to take part in the dinner that evening.

Thanks to the British Academy Rising Star Engagement award and the kind facilities offer by the Centre for Transnational Legal Studies it is be possible to reimburse travel costs (up to a maximum of £350), offer one night accommodation and also the dinner on the night of March 4th.

The call for proposals is open at the Public Procurement Podcast website until January 10th.

We already have some confirmed appearances. In addition to myself, Dr. Albert Sanchez-Graells, Dr. Ama Eyo and Professor Roberto Caranta will also be taking part. I will be confirming further names in the next few weeks.

In case you are not an Early Career Researcher and would like to attend the conference, drop us a line as we will have limited spaces available.

Links I Liked [Public Procurement]

1. Barcelona is a wired city. Excellent Forbes article. Not strictly procurement but relevant for the field nonetheless as an indication of what extra technology and sensors can do to influence the running of a city. One of the examples provided in the article is about procurement though: the savings achieved by putting down fibreoptic when the innovation district @22 was being replumbed. Back in 2012 we had Ramon Sagarra talking about this on Procurement Week

2. Speaking of Barcelona...TMB fails to put up performance bond for Porto's metro concession (Portuguese only). In Portugal if you win a contract, particularly public works or concessions you have to provide up front a performance bond to guarantee you will perform the contract. TMB did not cough up the €20M required for the Porto metro concession which it had won and the award has been annulled.

3. TTIP is being negotiated in the dark (as it should)There are plenty of people complaining that the TTIP is being negotiated in the dark and that peoples concerns (ie, lobbying) is not being taken into account. Said people probably do not negotiate their contracts in the open either but would prefer the EU to divulge its negotiation position to the world to see, including the americans. This podcast from Planet Money explains why trade deals not be done in secret. Yes, it's because of the lobbying.

As for the TTIP itself, as highlighted by Piotr Bogdanowciz on our PPP interview, it is more relevant than we think for procurement and we should be discussing it more.

4. Portuguese Government greenlights €400M worth of contracts for 2016-2019 (Portuguese only). Portugal will have general elections in less than two months and some media reported (complaining) that the outgoing Government has authorised expenditure up to the tune of €400M for the 2016-2019. Note, no contract has been awarded or signed, only the first step of authorising procedures to be carried out was done. It will take ages until they reach their conclusion, even if they are launched sooner rather than later. As for the people who cannot understand why an outgoing Government is doing this, just imagine the uproar if the services were disrupted otherwise.  

5. Basque country wants to help local SMEs to win contracts...internationally (Spanish only). As I said many times before, contracting authorities can do a lot to help their supplier base as long as they comply with state aid principles (Article 107 TFEU) and do not use their procurement spend as a piggy bank to feed those suppliers. The Basque country will help supplier which are successful winning contracts abroad, which ensure that they are not mixing their support with procurement activities. However, the support is only available for economic operators who win tenders. If that is the case, why do they need public sector support? It makes more sense to help struggling SMEs to become successful (within reason and only sometimes), not to throw money to the ones which do not need the support. Weird. 

Links I Liked [Public Procurement]

1. A new PPP interview is up, this time with Piotr Bogdanowicz from Warsaw University. As with the previous episode we discussed at length the issues surrounding cross-border interest in contracts not covered by the Directives. Previous episodes can be found here and also on iTunes.

2. The Welsh NHS is still using Windows XP. It is not as if they did not have time to upgrade the systems...Does the Welsh NHS have a licensing agreement with Microsoft for new security patches? Central Government decided not to renew its in April.

3. Is smart ticketing innovative procurement? In this day and age I do not think so, although some are still hiding failure behind the idea that it is.

4. The cloud is coming to local councils. There is plenty of scope for digitalisation of services inside local councils, although I am not so sure if local mandarins will appreciate the loss of power, control and budget associated with the move.

5. Are procurement "best practices" just..."practice"? I have long held that view and that proper applied research needs to be done to separate the wheat from the chaff. But that requires knowledge, costs time and money and it is so much easy just to parrot a few ideas with the "best practice" label slapped on them.

Links I Liked [Public Procurement]

1. Swansea will have a tidal lagoon and main contractor is looking for suppliers. I have nothing against "meet the buyer" or networking type of events, but I am never keen on the "local" spin people put on them.

2. How easy will it be for the World Bank to change its procurement paradigm and raise the skills of procurement officers? Not easy, but that is no reason not to do it.

3. "Human Rights not guaranteed by procurement practices." Another reason to listen to this podcast by yours truly with Claire Methven O'Brien.

4. Caribbean Development Bank to establish regional procurement centre. Reasonable idea, as usual devil will be in the details.

5. DG Market creates tool to make contract search easy and painless. Anything is better than TED as I argued before, although data is still coming from there. Oh, and if you like data check SpendNetwork.

Update: 6. The Telegraph "makes a meal" out of EU procurement.  Awesome story about crockery and dinner services procured by the European External Action Service.

Links I Liked [Public Procurement]

1. Location, location, location. Interesting opinion from Advocate-General Szupnar in Case C-552/13 Grupo Hospitalario Quiron* vs Departament de Sanidad del Gobierno Vasco & Instituto de Religiosas Siervas de Jesus de la Caridad. The AG found (correctly) that health care services cannot be restricted to certain territorial boundaries unless under specific public health grounds. I find it deliciously ironic that a case which is 100% Spanish would be solved in accordance with EU law, just because its value is above the EU thresholds.

* One of the biggest if not the biggest Spanish health care providers.

2. Are cities getting it all wrong in public management risk? Excellent post by Sascha Haselmayer, one of the guys behind CityMart. I interviewed him once for another of my podcasts and would love to have him back on the PPP now that is firmly working with procurement of innovation.

3. National Audit Office (UK) is calling for greater access to outsourced services costs...and profits. This is an interesting one. In general I am in favour of more transparency in procurement, but I am yet to fully commit behind this idea. Albert will disagree of course.

4. Romania looks to the USA for help in curbing corruption. I agree with Peter Smith on this. Why on earth is a EU Member State knocking on the United States door for help dealing with corruption? They could have looked at what Slovakia is doing for example. Plus, the OECD is based in Paris if memory serves me well... 

5. Columbia University divests from private prisons. Very timely based on my interview with Amy Ludlow.

 

Thoughts on six months of blogging

I started this blog roughly six months ago and it is time to reflect on the ride so far.

Start

The original objective was to publish a couple of articles a week if and when I felt the need and inclination to do it. Using (and paying) for SquareSpace ensured that I had a vested interest in doing something with the investment. Well, those were my intentions in January before the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (PCR 2015) came about and it was "all change, all change" from then onwards.

I am now routinely publishing 5-8 blog posts a week, most about the PCR 2015 with a few about other topics. I suspect that once we reach the end of the procurement tennis match, the number of weekly blogposts will come down 2-4 a week, depending on my workload. Come September/October I will be back in the usual teaching treadmill and my writing resilience may suffer in face of the opportunity costs involved.

Numbers

Numbers have been a lot higher than I anticipated with around 500 unique visitors a month a far cry from Albert's (different platforms, different approaches to tracking) but a good ramp for a very niche and specific blog mostly devoted to the PCR 2015. Numbers on the PPP (Public Procurement Podcast) are looking very good as well with over 200 unique visitors in the first month and over 100 subscribers.

Public Contracts Regulations 2015

We are now in the home stretch (finally!) of our running commentary on the PCR 2015. We will run it to the bitter end which should come perhaps in September. We won't be done with it straight away as we have some cool plans on the pipeline for the commentary. I cannot spill the beans on it yet, but it will be fun.

Cost/Benefit analysis

The immediate financial cost is easy to quantify: USD100 per year, SquareSpace's subscription price. The opportunity cost is more difficult to measure. I spend roughly an hour a day blogging, thus meaning one hour less for other things [and a overall 100-120 hours of blogging so far...]. I tend to write my commentary in the morning when my mind is fresh and it is possible to string a few ideas together. This means I am foreclosing the possibility of writing something else instead (ie, papers, book chapters) during that time.

That cost, however, needs to be measured against the benefits. First, forcing me to write in the morning the exercise primes me for further writing afterwards. Once the commentary to the PCR2015 is finished, let's hope the "muscle memory" stays there and I keep writing. Plus, the more one writes the better at it he gets (although my peer reviews appear to dispute this correlation...). Second, the commentary is a direct springboard for other added value activities, namely the ones that are yet to be disclosed. Third it enhances my reputation and widens my networks of contacts.* I was amazed to see the number of people in conferences which talk to me about the commentary series and appear to be reasonably regular readers of the blog. I am yet to be asked for an autograph though...

It does help as well that my new boss is fully behind any activity that enlarges our reach and/or increases our reputation/impact outside academia. Not that my previous one (yes Dermot, I am looking at you...) had nothing against this but my workload at Bangor and the 7-11 hours of weekly commuting were not conducive to this practice.

Finally, I have always been uncomfortable with the traditional publishing avenues and am more and more at ease with self-publishing and just getting stuff out there. Some times the quality is great, some times it is not, but I am further convinced that for legal academics (or academic lawyers) to make a mark, we need to interact outside our usual (stale) circles. Having said that, our circles allow for more interaction than international trade law. That is one of the reasons why Procurement Week has always been free and with a mixture of lawyers/academics/procurement professionals in speaking slots and audience.

What's next?

Public procurement will remain the main focus of this blog, but it may include other legal systems rather than just the UK or the EU. I do however want to talk about other areas particularly law and startups and legal education. I have a keen interest in both areas and a bunch of crazy ideas to test or put out there.

If there are any topics you would like me to cover, drop me a line in the comments.

* As I say to my students: "All things being equal, the one with the largest network wins."

Public Procurement Podcast episodes #3 and #4 available

Two new episodes of my Public Procurement Podcast are now up. 

In episode #3 I interview Frank Brunetta, the Canadian Procurement Ombudsman where we talk at length about his work as Ombudsman and what EU Member States could learn from his experience. He does have a lot experience indeed!

For episode #4 I interviewed Amy Ludlow from the University of Cambridge. Excellent and engaging chat about the implications of labour law in public procurement. Most of our discussion was about her experience doing empirical research within a privatised public prison in Birmingham.

You can now also subscribe to the podcast directly on iTunes or any similar podcast management system.

Episode #5 will go up in two weeks.