22 May 2003 | Robin Parker
Prisons are joining forces to buy goods and services in regional teams in a bid to cut costs and improve security.
The scheme is a response to a recent National Audit Office report that said few jails had anyone to oversee procurement.
John Cavell, head of procurement at the Prison Service, told SM he wants to put purchasers at the heart of a drive to make the 128 prisons in England and Wales safer and more secure.
He said setting up local procurement teams for the service's 12 regions would cut £5 million from the £460 million annual purchasing spend not subject to national contracts.
This has until now been conducted by individual prisons, few of which have trained procurement managers.
Cavell said the savings would largely be delivered by having dedicated, trained staff to conduct larger procurements and cut the number of suppliers, which would help to make prisons safer.
"Every time you have to open the front gates of a prison it's a security risk and it doesn't help if you've got dozens of suppliers," he said.
"The more prisons rationalise, the more they can do timed deliveries so that they know who's coming and when, and appoint the appropriate person to escort the supplier. At the moment, it's a bit hit and miss."
The idea for regional procurement teams, each backed by the central Prison Service, came out of a series of audits of individual prisons' procurement practices conducted at 40 jails over the past two years.
The regions are largely geographical, but specific purchasing teams will also co-ordinate buying for the UK's eight high security prisons and the seven that house only women.
The Isle of Wight's three prisons, Albany, Parkhurst and Camp Hill, have begun a pilot project to find ways of cutting their combined £26 million annual procurement spend with joint buying and shipping.
The Prison Service is also to send a team of its London-based purchasers on secondment to the West Midlands to set up a regional procurement team on behalf of 12 prisons.
A third local team will be set up later this year in an as yet unnamed region. The service aims to conduct all non-national procurement on a regional basis by 2005.