23 August 2001 | Robin Parker
Leicester City Council is to set up a corporate procurement team after an Audit Commission report branded its purchasing practices inconsistent and unlikely to improve.
A review by the commission's Best Value Inspection Service said the council's purchasing was undertaken by individual departments in isolation, with no single officer responsible.
The council had long been concerned about the procurement and monitoring of contracts. "We chose procurement for the review because it influences every part of the council's activities," Jeff Organ, assistant director of corporate property and business services, said.
The report said the council could reduce its annual £219 million spend with a more central procurement process. And the commission found no systematic monitoring procedure for compliance, which could leave the council open to challenge under European law. Since a first draft of the report was published, Leicester has created a new monitoring team.
The commission criticised a draft procurement performance management framework and its projected savings of £750,000 over 18 months, which it said was too vague. "The inspectorate's conclusions are largely valid," said Organ. "But it'll take six months of data analysis to get a full buying history before streamlining."
The inspectorate also cited inconsistent use of the Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation, a joint purchasing scheme Leicester co-owns with seven other local authorities.
Strengths noted by the review included awareness of procurement guidelines and an innovative partnership approach.
The inspectorate reached similar conclusions in its harsher analysis of Birmingham City Council's procurement, fuelling allegations that best value reviews have a political agenda.