30 October 2003 | Liam O'Brien and Mark Whitehead
Local government purchasing is set to be targeted by an initiative designed to save money on the £40 billion that councils spend every year with suppliers.
The National Procurement Strategy - launched by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and best-practice agency for local government, the Improvement & Development Agency (IDeA) - will include best-practice guidance, performance indicators, contract standardisation and electronic procurement advice.
From early 2004, national training and development programmes, as well as regional centres of excellence, will be set up.
The Society of Procurement Officers in Local Government (Sopo), which believes procurement should be higher on councils' agendas, welcomed the move.
But a senior local government purchasing figure raised concerns over the skills available to make the project work.
Speaking at the launch of the strategy in London, Dave Wheller, head of corporate procurement and direct services at Essex County Council and former Sopo chairman, said: "There isn't enough procurement expertise in the country to meet this agenda, let alone in local government.
"The foundations are being built, but the outcomes from this initiative aren't going to hit the marketplace for a while yet."
Wheller called for fast-track training for graduates in procurement aimed at local government.
Phil Hope, minister for local government at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, told SM: "We have some very good examples where people can learn from each other and build on the resources we have already got to provide the kind of training and backup people need.
"There's a challenge here for local government, and we've provided the strategy."
To coincide with the launch, the IDeA published some best-practice guidelines.
John Scowen, Sopo chairman and corporate procurement manager at the London Borough of Havering, said: "This helps councils to move procurement forward - a good thing because many of them still do not have a procurement officer."