14 November 2002 | David Arminas
Purchasers must align purchasing strategies with corporate ones if councils want the highest marks from district auditors.
John Scowen, the new chairman of the Society of Procurement Officers in Local Government (Sopo), told delegates to its annual conference in London that coupling the two strategies was central to improving services.
"This is the biggest challenge facing local government purchasers in the next year," he said.
"Procurement strategies must have buy-in from the top level; that is where there are problems.
"Often the procurement officer has not been involved in the corporate strategy.
"Yet they are expected to write a procurement strategy without understanding the corporate one."
Scowen, who is also chief purchasing officer for the London Borough of Havering, urged purchasers to get involved in setting corporate strategy and also to get their chief executives involved in procurement strategies.
A Sopo survey of 171 local authorities, launched at the conference, showed only 47 per cent of authorities have a procurement strategy and policies agreed by the chief executive and elected councillors.
Dave Pointon, head of procurement at Portsmouth City Council, who worked on the survey, told SM: "The most worrying thing about the survey is we don't have executive ownership of procurement.
"Elected members are there to improve the quality of life for citizens, but they don't appreciate the importance of purchasing power locally."
The survey also found that only half of councils had contracts linked to their corporate strategy and only 35 per cent had a purchaser on all major procurement projects.
Nick Ward, a district auditor in London, told delegates that aligning procurement and corporate strategies ensured a high mark for authorities in their comprehensive performance assessments (CPA).
"Procurement is the key link in translating corporate objectives into reality.
"It is not just about buying things or services, it really is about better ways of delivering services," he said.
In December the Audit Commission will publish the results of the first CPAs completed for all of England's 150 councils.
By the end of 2003, all 250 district authorities will have been through a CPA.