IPEC Research Symposium  


IPEC Research Symposium

As part of our work to realise the opportunities arising from over £300 billion annual UK public procurement spend, this week we participated in the first IPEC Research Symposium, organised by the Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre at the amazing Alliance Manchester Business School. This brought together academics from leading universities across the UK – Manchester, Birmingham, Bath, Cardiff, Stirling, Nottingham, Oxford, Lancaster – and Autonomous University of Madrid. 30 speakers, researchers and policy leads from around the UK convened to share evidence and ideas to boost the impact of innovation procurement.  

The Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre (IPEC) is a major initiative of Connected Places Catapult and a key plank of our work is to develop research capacity in this critical area. We have entered a long-term partnership with the Universities of Birmingham and Manchester, gathering evidence to build the case for doing procurement differently.  It will generate tools for policy development and support public and private sectors in implementing innovation through procurement, driving investment and better outcomes.  

After being ‘strategically caffeinated’ the brilliant speakers highlighted the increasing global focus on innovation procurement as places and public bodies seek to respond to key challenges whilst needing to do more with less. Emerging research demonstrated the quantitative impact that the use of innovation procurement can have on driving firm productivity, using cutting edge network analysis to investigate regional procurement supply chains and how the use of AI Language learning models can provide new insights to analyse the complex supply chains of key public sectors and industries. Great examples from Spain, and a guest speaker from UK experts Tussell showed how clever analysis unlocks value from existing data sources.  

A key theme of the symposium was on the multiple ways innovation can drive procurement. Highlights were the Birmingham University research on local initiatives to deliver housing upgrades to meet the climate crisis, and how local procurement spend regenerates areas and supports local employment. This aligns closely with the Catapult’s West Midlands Diatomic project and national plans for Local Policy Innovation Partnership (LPIP) hubs. They demonstrated the depth of our local partnerships and breadth of our work. 

The procurement landscape is currently undergoing significant change with the new procurement act, where the Connected Places Catapult has played an active role in championing innovation ambitions. However, researchers highlighted demands for better quality and transparent data (both quantitative and qualitative), along with the continued need to promote best practice and real-world case studies showing innovation procurement delivering better outcomes. This is an area of focus for IPEC and builds on the amazing work already being done to demonstrate the ‘Art of the possible’ – the title of our successful recently published report! 

We are currently working with our stakeholders to develop future themes and will be commissioning new partnership research, building the evidence base to reinforce the case for innovation procurement. Our success in securing new Researchers in Residence in specialist areas of Procurement will further build our research capacity. The challenges are clear, but the opportunities are enormous. Innovation Procurement will be an essential tool for places to drive their innovation ecosystems and address local and global needs.  

Lots more to come …

Further reading

In-Conversation with Liz St Louis

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In-Conversation with Liz St Louis

We are thrilled to introduce a new initiative at IPEC – “In-Conversation With” interviews! The initiative aims to celebrate transformational leaders in various parts of UK local government by sharing their expertise, success journeys, and advice on implementing new practices in innovation procurement.

This week we had the opportunity to interview Liz St-Louis, Director of Smart Cities and Enabling Services at Sunderland City Council, delving into topics about innovation, procurement and how it works for Sunderland.

What is your role at the Sunderland City Council? What does an average day entail?

In the context of this area of work my role is Director of Smart Cities and I manage our Smart City programme and our 20-year joint venture partnership with Boldyn Networks. In a nutshell, I drive forward city-wide investment in next generation digital infrastructure and digital and data solutions that are making a transformational difference across a city landscape.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the Council?

Demand pressures, specifically with regards Adults and Children’s Social Care and Housing and the challenges this places on overall resources.

We know you have partnered with Boldyn Networks on procurement of innovative solutions. Can you please tell us more about your partnership? How does it help to make Sunderland more innovative? How do you apply procurement here?

We went to market to procure a 20-year strategic Smart City joint venture partner to help us develop our smart city landscape. It’s a contractual joint venture, joint risk/joint reward. We have jointly developed a network of networks and a raft of digital and data solutions that sit on those networks. We have developed a robust supply chain and can provide services to anyone in Sunderland. It is effectively a legal framework where we can procure any network infrastructure or any digital or data solutions that sit on those networks, subject to agreed value for money principles.

Our mechanisms for contracting are all set-out within our underpinning project agreement and we have connectivity services agreements governing all of our buy-back services. It makes us very agile and able to respond very quickly to challenges and opportunities. Bodyn Networks also have an extensive global footprint which means we have a much greater reach which aids innovation.

What’s the value for residents and businesses when thinking about smart cities?

Everything we do within the smart city programme is about delivering economic or social good. It’s about how digital makes Sunderland a great place to live work and play. We also strive hard to ensure we leave no one and nowhere behind on our smart city journey.

Why 5G and IoT is important to Sunderland City Council?

Advanced wireless infrastructure creates so many opportunities in every aspect of life and business. It provides a huge advantage for a city, economically and socially and we want to be at the forefront of that advantage.

What have you been able to achieve in this space to date? Can you please share a few examples?

  • Properties now able to access full fibre connectivity has doubled since the start of the programme
  • Over 40,000 unique users are now enjoying the free Sunderland wi-fi network each month
  • Over 4,500 properties across the city now have assistive technologies enabling elderly and vulnerable people to live safe and well in their own homes
  • Our recent social tariff campaign reached over 30,750 residents with many now benefiting from discounted broadband rates
  • Our 22 Digital Hubs are now live across the city providing safe and supported access to digital services with over 200 volunteers helping people to go on-line

What in your experience are the biggest challenges for local governments in procuring innovation to solve council challenges? What is your advice?

It can be the pace of public sector procurement and the difficulties experienced, particularly by SME’s in responding to tenders, being accepted on frameworks etc. It is also very much the repetitiveness of the process. That’s why the partnership with Boldyn Networks and the associated procurement framework is so important to us in delivering our smart city ambitions.

What is one advice you would have given yourself if you could nearly 15 years ago when you just joined SCC?

Think carefully about your ambitions, seek innovative ways of how to deliver those ambitions and put the thought and effort in at the beginning to create the right enabling mechanisms to then deliver at pace.

If you are interested in showcasing your journeys to innovation through procurement in our in-conversation interviews, please reach out via contact@ipec.org.uk.

Content you might like

In this session with Nick Talbot, thought leaders and experts in local governance came together to share their unique case studies and insights on fostering collaboration and driving innovation in public procurement.

Liz St Louis
Director of Smart Cities and Enabling Services, Sunderland City Council


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Public spending holds untapped potential to unleash innovation


Public spending holds untapped potential to unleash innovation

PRESS RELEASE: Experts explain how new procurement legislation can help public authorities leverage their purchasing power to drive innovation.

Connected Places Catapult, the UK’s innovation accelerator for cities, transport, and place leadership, today published ‘The Art of the Possible in Public Procurement’ – a new report from the Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre (IPEC). The report is co-authored by an expert team with experience in innovative legal and procurement processes and was unveiled at a House of Lords reception. It encourages council leaders, innovative teams in public authorities and ambitious businesses to take advantage of the new possibilities – reinforced by the Procurement Act 2023 – that can be used to drive innovation.

With approximately £300bn a year being spent on UK public procurement, public sector organisations have an indispensable role in fostering innovation and supporting ambitious small businesses. Local Government alone accounts for approximately £70bn of that spending which has huge potential to level-up economic growth and productivity in the UK.

The Procurement Act 2023 received royal assent on 26 October. In November, the Cabinet Office produced a guidance note ‘Transforming public procurement: our innovation ambition’ which outlined the intent that, ‘over time these developments will make public procurement into one of the most powerful levers to drive innovation nationally’. The authors of ‘The Art of the Possible’ set out ways in which this ambition can be achieved and how the new rules encourage more ways of engaging innovative companies during procurement processes. They highlight the importance of attracting innovative suppliers; cementing partnerships; ensuring transparency and value sharing; and transformative collaboration.

The report brings principles to life through case studies of procurement best practice, including:

  • how TfL developed and incentivised a three-way partnership between carriers, innovators and themselves to reduce the adverse impact of freight with Freightlab;
  • how Leicestershire Children’s Services used an innovative two-tier contractual framework to procure solutions that helped to achieve ambitious social and environmental goals;
  • and how Staffordshire County Council used a joint tendering arrangement with neighbouring councils to increase their purchasing power and overcome their struggle securing a new sexual health service provider.

The report points to the introduction of the ‘competitive flexible procedure’ as the single biggest change implemented through the 2023 Act. The new procedure gives creative contractors a ‘wider palette of colours’ with which they can design procurement solutions. The authors also highlight the importance of assessment criteria favouring the ‘most advantageous tender’. They point to wording from the National Procurement Policy Statement, which is included in the Act. ‘All contracting authorities should consider the following national priority outcomes alongside any additional local priorities in their procurement activities:

  • creating new businesses, new jobs, and new skills.
  • tackling climate change and reducing waste, and
  • improving supplier diversity, innovation, and resilience.’

Speaking at a reception at the House of Lords to mark the publication of the report, Rikesh Shah, Head of the Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre at Connected Places Catapult said:

“The Procurement Act 2023 reinforces the ability of public authorities to get better value for money by getting smarter with their spending. In recent years, technology has changed at such a rapid rate that new types of innovators are emerging. This is creating a huge opportunity for public authorities to unlock value.

Every procurement made has the potential to support a new idea and generate new economic activity. By further empowering public authorities as they get smarter with spending, we can support more diverse suppliers and find more cost-effective, sometimes more localised, solutions to our biggest challenges.

Malcolm Harbour CBE, Associate Director at Connected Places Catapult and former Chair of the powerful European Parliament Internal Market Committee, said:

We all want public money to be well spent. But to maximise the power of every pound we need everyone involved in public procurement to show relentless ambition to enhance the impact of what they spend. We also need to have the courage to try new ways of doing things, and challenge suppliers to respond to procurement processes with fresh thinking.

Mr Harbour, who was awarded the CBE for services to the British economy, continued,

The very best procurement processes set challenging delivery targets, responding to national and regional priorities and stretching the innovative capability of suppliers.

Read the full report here.

Further reading

Public Sector Procurement Survey 


Help Influence Innovation Procurement Support Across the Public Sector  

Innovation procurement is set to make a significant impact on the way the public sector operates. As an integral component of the recently passed Procurement Act, now is a great time for public bodies to gear up to implement Innovation Procurement.  The Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre (IPEC), part of the Connected Places Catapult, has been established to support you and your colleagues in adopting these approaches.

IPEC has commissioned an independent research study to investigate the level of awareness, understanding and adoption of Innovation Procurement across public bodies. We have launched a confidential survey to gather the views of those working in the public sector, in order to inform the design of future support.

Please take 10 minutes out of your schedule to complete the survey and make your voice heard.

Head of Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre – Rikesh Shah – explains how your expertise is essential in driving the necessary change in public sector:

Further reading

Leverage purchase power  


Leverage purchase power  

PRESS RELEASE: Local authorities spend £60bn a year; they can now apply for fully-funded support to leverage their purchasing power in a way that supports new, innovative ideas.

IPEC is offering fully-funded and tailored innovation procurement support for up to five local authorities. The selected cohort will also benefit from the opportunity to network with and learn from each other as they progress along their innovation procurement journeys together. 

The support package will provide expertise from design thinking, market scouting and shaping to running trials, managing change and designing the right procurement processes to help take innovative ideas from the market, successfully scale them and add value.

In addition, the support will consider: how to improve stakeholder relations; SME engagement approaches; ways to overcome organisational and strategic problems; how to discover and shape challenges; attracting innovation; trial support; and risk management techniques.

IPEC is headed by newly appointed Rikesh Shah who was previously Head of Open Innovation at Transport for London for many years where his award-winning Innovation Hub applied different procurement routes to bring in innovation at scale from the market. 

Rikesh Shah, Head of the Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre, said:  

UK local government procurement accounts for £60bn of spending each year. Local authorities have a huge opportunity to use this purchasing power to support new and innovative ideas in their regions. By bringing in new ideas from the diverse range of innovators from start-ups, SMEs, scale-ups, academia, corporates and others, it will enable local authorities to deliver faster, better and cheaper outcomes and create new value.  

IPEC will help raise local authorities’ confidence and abilities, providing proactive support throughout a live end-to-end procurement process. If you have a desire to procure innovation, resources or sponsorship to speed up a culture shift in your council, and a buying budget to address an innovation challenge – then we would like to hear from you!”  

Local authorities have until 15 December to register their interest.  

Further reading




By Rikesh Shah, Head of the Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre (IPEC)

Innovation in the public sector is about creating value: doing things better, cheaper or quicker. But it is not always about technology or building shiny new products.

There could also be a particularly knotty problem to solve or a strategic, emerging theme that needs addressing around policy, process or people. In all of these cases, I would encourage leaders to look at their issues through the lens of problem solving and innovation.

Currently the UK public sector spends over £300 billion on third party goods and services every year, so is in a great position to shape new markets through innovation. Innovation is critical to the public sector to ensure we can get more with our spend, and at the same time, create new innovative products that could be sold around the world.

Sometimes authorities fall into a trap of trying to do everything themselves, but public bodies need to work with the market to co-create new ideas and solutions. A key starting point is to define the problem and go out to the market with a mission focused approach and setting out the right conditions to successfully scale, which includes using the right procurement route to market.

Citizens demand more

Ultimately, it is important to innovate because our citizens expect more, and we in the UK are the engine room of creative innovation. In this regard, we are in a good place: barriers to entry for smaller companies wanting to try new ideas have reduced, and we are seeing more diversity of thought with different types of innovators entering the market.

If we embrace different thinking, we will be able to better represent the city, region or country we serve.

But challenges do remain. There is still a large aversion to risk: senior leaders potentially worry about what key stakeholders such as the media or politicians might say. The key is to put the right safeguards in place, engage early with stakeholders and objectively build the evidence through testing new ideas.

Another issue is the fear of failure. Change is generally hard, especially in the public sector and it is difficult to do anything new at scale. This fear must be overcome by winning hearts and minds internally and externally.

During my time as Transport for London’s head of open innovation, much was learnt about the role of data, and its value. The authority’s decision to open its data to app developers, for instance, meant that for every £1 spent, £130  in benefit was generated. At its peak, we had over 700 apps (businesses) creating new products through TfL data; our focus was to define the right challenges and produce the right supporting data – the market brought the innovation.

In a rapidly evolving landscape, the role of public services is undergoing a profound transformation. As we navigate the complexities of societal challenges, technological advances, economic shifts, new business models and environmental concerns, the need for innovation in public procurement has never been more critical. It is within this context that the Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre (IPEC) sets out on a mission to reshape the future of public services through helping to scale innovative procurement solutions from market innovators.

Unveiling the Power of Procurement as an Innovation Catalyst:

Public procurement, often viewed as a bureaucratic necessity, possesses a latent power to drive innovation whether its funding from the market or new ideas, from the wide ecosystem of innovators from start-ups, academia, scale-ups, Venture Capitalists, corporates and many others. Traditionally bound by rigid procurement policies and procedures, doing everything internally and risk-averse cultures, procurement practices have been slow to adapt to the dynamic needs of our communities. At IPEC, we recognise that unlocking this potential requires a paradigm shift – a shift towards innovation-friendly procurement methods whether it’s a continuous improvement or a transformative change.

“Unlocking the true potential of public procurement requires a cultural shift—a move from risk aversion to innovation drive. At the Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre (IPEC), we believe in empowering public authorities to shape markets through identifying intractable problems and wield the diverse array of available tools, turning procurement into a dynamic force for positive change that delivers better, cheaper and quicker outcomes. Our mission-led approach, supported by robust research, new tools and techniques and a growing community of advocates, is paving the way for a future where public services are synonymous with progress, co-development, iteration, agility, and positive societal impact. Join us on this transformative journey, where innovation is not just encouraged but embedded in the very fabric of public procurement.”

Rikesh Shah, Head of the Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre (IPEC)

The Cultural Shift in local governments and public services: From Risk-Averse to Innovation-Driven:

One of the primary challenges we aim to address is the cultural inertia within public procurement. A low appetite for risk and experimentation has, historically, hindered the exploration of alternative mechanisms available to public buyers. It’s not a lack of tools; it’s a hesitancy to wield them. IPEC stands as a catalyst for this shift in culture, advocating for a move from over-specification to embracing the diverse array of available innovative tools.

Numbers that Speak Volumes:

Consider this: £63 billion is annually spent by UK local government on third-party service suppliers. Astonishingly, 23% of public tenders receive only one bid, highlighting a significant challenge in the public procurement landscape. Moreover, independent studies reveal that only a minimal 5% of businesses participating in procurement processes report that public procurement effectively incentivises innovation. This sheds light on the pressing need for a shift in the procurement paradigm, emphasising not a lack of innovative tools in public procurement, but rather the under exploitation of the available mechanisms.

IPEC’s Mission-Led Approach: A Blueprint for Change:

IPEC’s Cohort Program, is designed and refined through collaborative efforts with councils and local authorities, are a testament to our commitment to catalyse change in public procurement. By providing mission-led support, we guide public authorities in integrating innovation-friendly procurement procedures and policies into their strategic agendas. Our approach isn’t just about changing processes; it’s about fostering a mindset that perceives procurement as a dynamic force for positive change.

Research and Evidence: A Cornerstone of Progress:

To shift perceptions and practices, we recognise the importance of a robust evidence base. IPEC engages in original research, evaluation, and thought leadership initiatives to drive the narrative. By advancing the understanding of the adoption and diffusion effects of innovation procurement, we aim to build a compelling case for its greater use.

Building a Community of Advocates:

Beyond programs and research, IPEC is about building a community – a network of advocates and empowered procurement enthusiasts who champion the cause of innovation in procurement. Through our digital platform, events, and publications, we aim to connect like-minded professionals and facilitate a continuous exchange of knowledge and insights.

The Road Ahead:

As we embark on this journey, the road ahead is both exciting and challenging. In Year 2, we expand IPEC, fueled by additional resources and a growing community. Yet, our eyes are firmly set on the future. Year 3 holds promises of further growth, strategic innovation partnerships, and an unwavering commitment to driving positive change in the public procurement landscape. The journey of innovation in public procurement is not just about changing processes; it’s about redefining the narrative of public services. At IPEC, we invite all stakeholders to join us on this transformative journey, where procurement becomes a catalyst for a future where innovation is not just encouraged but embedded in the DNA of public services. Together, we shape a future where public procurement is synonymous with progress, agility, and positive societal impact.

Rikesh Shah participated in a recent Connected Places Catapult webinar tilted ‘Smarter Spending: the Power of Public Procurement to Drive Innovation and Growth’ from which this piece has been written. Join him and the rest of the team in our 90-minute online live case study on 4th of December to learn how innovation delivers digital connectivity for Manchester.

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