31 October 2002 | Mark Whitehead
Local government reformer Sir Ian Byatt has hit out at what he sees as moves to develop a "one-size-fits-all" strategy for improving council procurement.
He said the new forum on local government procurement, due to hold its first meeting in two weeks, should be a chance for people to exchange views rather than an attempt to thrash out a national policy.
Byatt said his proposal, put forward in his report Delivering Better Services to Citizens last summer, was for a "forum for open dialogue".
But he feared the response to his proposals from Whitehall and local government organisations could lead to a bureaucratic "box ticking" approach.
The forum will include representatives from local and central government, business and trade unions.
CIPS, the Office of Government Commerce and the Audit Commission will all be invited.
Other proposals in Byatt's report recommended establishing dedicated procurement functions in larger local authorities and more specialist training.
Speaking at a conference on public sector procurement in London, Byatt said of the forum: "I fear it will be another attempt at central government direction, telling everyone what to do, which I believe would be wrong.
"I saw it as a forum for experts to meet and find out what they were doing. I hope it will not be a rush into another big national strategy with people ticking boxes as to whether they have met the government's targets."
Local government leaders denied they wanted to impose a national strategy.
Keith Beaumont, programme officer for procurement at the Local Government Association, said one of the forum's priorities would be to produce "best-practice guidelines" for councils.
He told SM: "It is down to authorities to make their own decisions, but one early outcome of the forum will be to provide advice and best practice guidance so that they have some information to help them."
John Thornton, director of e-government at the Improvement and Development Agency, the council think-tank, said: "It's important that local government acts co-operatively and has access to good professional procurement advice.
"We are in favour of sharing good practice and helping local authorities to get better value from their procurement process."