04 November 2004 | Cara Whitehouse
Outdated and inefficient purchasing across 46 English fire brigades is to be targeted by the first national procurement strategy for the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS).
The move, driven by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), follows several independent reports suggesting that large savings could be won if purchasing was centrally co-ordinated.
The national procurement strategy aims to make annual savings of 2.5 per cent on the £300 million spend on everything from fire engines to uniforms and equipment.
Paul Hayden, national lead officer on procurement issues at the Chief Fire Officers' Association said: "There has been huge progress and increased collaboration between forces since the 1990s, but a national procurement strategy is the next step to make.
"It is a long-term, strategic project to make sure firefighters have got the best equipment at the best prices."
The draft strategy is currently out to consultation before its launch next spring.
It calls for the creation of a single framework for FRS procurement to ensure that best value is achieved at national, regional and local levels. The strategy proposes the establishment of "FiReBuy", a national organisation set up as a limited company, in which each of the fire and rescue authorities would become shareholders.
Key items such as vehicles and equipment are to be targeted by FiReBuy and it is expected they will be purchased nationally for the first time.
Richard Peasgood, head of the major procurement unit at the London Fire & Emergency Planning Authority, who has been seconded to the ODPM for the project, told SM that another major issue was the need for standardisation across forces. "It is essential that equipment can be operated across counties," he said, and added that the forces currently lack full co-ordination.
FiReBuy could also play the lead role in a national approach to technical services - the specifying, testing and acceptance process for fire equipment - seeking to cut duplication and waste.
This could produce major savings of at least £2 million a year within three years, according to the draft strategy.
Other areas considered in the strategy include the training and development of staff, contract and risk management, and contingency planning.