01 February 2001 | Cathy Hayward
The fire service must adopt a national procurement strategy if it is to meet its April 2002 best value review, according to a report by public sector watchdog the Audit Commission.
Best-value reviews demand efficiency savings of 2 per cent, about £5.5 million of the Fire Service's annual non-staff spend of £300 million, said the report, A Uniform Approach. "This is achievable through a reduction in overheads and more efficient procurement of key [goods] such as fuel and clothing within individual brigades through collaborative purchasing."
Centralised equipment trials, for example, would eliminate the need for repeating them in every brigade, it noted.
The report acknowledged collaborative purchasing was well advanced. Half of the authorities bought appliances with other brigades and more than 80 per cent are buying general commodities through consortia.
But the amount paid by brigades for goods and services varied widely. The cost of a new recruit's standard issue can vary between £900 and £1,300.
Purchasing managers broadly welcomed the call for a national strategy but had some concerns. "A national strategy has cost and efficiency advantages but making it work is the problem," said Peter Luddord, quality review manager at Suffolk Fire Service. "Chief officers are autonomous. We need common standards."
Alan Doig, chief fire officer at Staffordshire Fire Service, said a national policy would encourage procurement across the three emergency services. "We have been impeded from procuring collaboratively with the police force because of a lack of a national strategy," he said.