18 May 2000 | Liam O'Brien
A planned electronic marketplace for local authorities has been given a frosty reception by council purchasers.
E-commerce solutions company Tradezone International, which is due to launch its Best Value Zone next month, said councils could save up to 40 per cent on their collective annual low-value spend of £14 billion.
Local authorities in England and Wales are expected to achieve the government's goal of procuring 70 per cent of their low-value, routine goods electronically by April 2002.
But councils say that the marketplace, claimed to be the first for local government, could be problematic, given the strict guidelines under which they have to work. Two key areas of concern are their obligation to prove that they conduct best-value procurement and large tenders that must be advertised by law across Europe.
"We'd have reservations about whether the catalogues that feature on such sites would represent best value," said Liz Welton, head of organisational effectiveness at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council. "And as soon as we spend more than £144,000 a year, we have to use European tendering procedures. How could we demonstrate that using the marketplace?"
"There is a lot of work to do with e-procurement," said Mike Kirkman, central purchasing officer at Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council. "The inference is that we should be using such a site, but why would we want to when we already have access to other websites and e-mail?"
David Parr, county supplies officer for Nottinghamshire County Council and a member of the marketplace's user group, said that councils' management culture may also make adoption of new e-procurement technology difficult. "Things are not as simple as they are in the private sector. You often see a lot of Sir Humphrey-type attitudes."
But Paul Leggott, Tradezone's public sector manager, said the service would give councils an easy route into e-procurement and help them to catch up with the private sector, which was up to 15 months ahead. "A lot of councils are at the very early stages of looking at this and quite a few have been waiting to see what others do," he said.