24 April 2003 | Robin Parker
The prison service is considering a shake-up to address concerns that few jails have anyone overseeing procurement.
The National Audit Office (NAO) has recommended that the 128 prisons under HM Prison Service's control appoint someone to manage procurement, and to report to governors.
Purchasing has improved, notes the NAO, but it wants the service to reduce administrative costs by simplifying procurement procedures.
In each prison's spend, there were "significant" differences, which could be improved by setting up central procurement teams and making each responsible for their performance.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office, which has responsibility for the service, said it had set up an inquiry into whether appointing senior managers would help: "It is planned to develop a pilot programme that strengthens the existing management structure."
The service cut its spend on essential supplies such as food, clothing and drug and education programmes by 5.6 per cent in 2001-02 to £461 million, largely by aggregating contracts and negotiating price reductions on renewed deals.
It plans a further 6 per cent reduction this year through consortia buying and contracts.
The House of Commons' public accounts committee will scrutinise the NAO report in a hearing next week and produce a report later this year.