05 July 2001 | Liam O'Brien
Widespread scope for improved local government procurement and the need for a much higher profile for the function have been highlighted by the long-awaited Byatt report.
The review of English local authority purchasing by a taskforce headed by Sir Ian Byatt, published last week, says councils need to elevate procurement if they are to deliver better-value services to citizens.
Byatt, a former director-general of water regulator Ofwat, says in the 60-page report: "The scope for better procurement is widespread and with it the scope for better services. The procurement function should have a much higher profile."
He calls for "stronger staffing" of procurement departments and training "at all levels".
There are 39 detailed recommendations for improved purchasing in the review, sponsored by the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the Local Government Association.
A new approach to risk at traditionally risk-averse local authorities is among the chief recommendations. The report says that the key issue is not how risk should be allocated but how it should be managed. "The trade-offs between risk and reward should be assessed, recognising that continuing in the old ways carries its own risk."
Greater use of the private sector offers considerable scope for savings and better performance, according to the report, Delivering Better Services for Citizens: a review of local government procurement in England.
Local government purchasing consortia are criticised for not being very suitable for joint procurement of services. Byatt recommends they need to change to have a role in the future.
The remaining recommendations include integrating procurement into best-value reviews and the formation of a joint national forum for local authorities and suppliers.
Nick Raynsford, the local government minister, welcomed the report, which he said "provides a challenging analysis of current procurement practice and is an important contribution to the debate on the modernisation of local government".
Dave Wheller, chairman of the Society of Purchasing Officers in local government and head of corporate procurement and direct services at Essex County Council, said the review called for procurement to move to the top of the local authority agenda.
"The review is an opportunity for a step change in procurement - and it's up to us to grasp it."
* For a full copy of the report, visit the website www.local-regions.dtlr.gov.uk