22 July 2004
Local government purchasing professionals have clashed with chief executives over whether chancellor Gordon Brown's savings could be achieved.
John Scowen, chairman of the Society of Procurement Officers in Local Government, branded the projected £3 billion of savings through better procurement as unrealistic.
He said the government would have to employ at least 300 extra purchasing professionals - one per council - if it wanted them to adopt a more strategic approach.
But Tim Byles, secretary of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace), chief executive of Norfolk County Council and the "national procurement champion" for local government, said: "It's a challenge, but I believe it is achievable. There are some excellent examples of good practice in local government already.
"The big opportunity here for local government is to grasp the chance to make savings and push those into improving front-line services."
In a statement made following the chancellor's announcement, local government minister Nick Raynsford said he wanted councils to make "efficiency savings" of £6.45 billion in the next four years, which would go into front-line services. About half of this is expected to be made through better procurement.
Scowen said: "Everyone keeps saying there are procurement savings to be had, but most have already been made. A lot of us are already using consortium contracts, procurement cards and e-marketplaces. The government will have to resource extra people if it wants to achieve this."
In a guide titled Procurement: all you need to know
, released to coincide with the spending review, Solace warned that local government could lose control of nine new regional centres of excellence now being set up to improve council purchasing.
It said: "If local government fails to grasp the opportunity, the units could be run from outside local government and as such be insensitive to issues that concern councils, such as equal opportunities and sustainable communities."