07 October 2004
Local authorities must improve their purchasing skills to meet the government's efficiency challenges, according to the first chief executive of the Society of Procurement Officers in Local Government (Sopo).
Peter Howarth said purchasers have been increasingly relied upon for savings ever since Sir Ian Byatt's major 2001 report on procurement in local government, Delivering Better Services for Citizens, but the recent spending efficiency review by chancellor Gordon Brown had raised the stakes.
"We've got to get the skills into local government," said Howarth, who has been director of strategic management and county purchasing officer at Suffolk County Council.
"Skills will come from areas such as the private sector and the voluntary, not-for-profit sector. For example, Jaguar is closing its Coventry plant and there may be purchasers there with skills that local authorities could use."
These skills include project and risk management and strategic analysis.
Sopo, which started in 1997, has 1,700 members. It plans to build a database of retired local council purchasers and their skills, and will seek to work closely with the new centres of purchasing excellence for local government.
Howarth has been in purchasing since he joined Triumph as an apprentice in 1967 and was recently an adviser on the e-marketplace project for the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA), a consultancy for local authority procurement.