31 March 2005 | Cara Whitehouse
A single body will tomorrow take over high-value purchasing deals on behalf of fire and rescue services in England.
FiReBuy, will manage so-called "mission critical" procurement on behalf of 48 fire and rescue authorities (FRAs).
In addition to contributing to £105 million of efficiency savings expected on the service's £300 million annual budget by 2008, FiReBuy aims to drive safety through better purchasing.
Terry Brewer, interim chief executive and head of procurement for the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, told SM: "Central buying will bring efficiency savings which can be ploughed back into frontline services.
"We want to maximise our buying power as well as improve equipment for the health and safety of our fire fighters."
Initially, the central organisation will handle contract negotiations, management and service level monitoring of three national purchasing projects: breathing apparatus, protective equipment and vehicles.
FiReBuy could also take the lead on a centralised specification and testing unit that would eliminate duplication in research carried out by each FRA.
Tomorrow also sees the launch of the first national procurement strategy for the fire services.
Paul Hayden, lead officer on procurement issues at the Chief Fire Officers' Association, said FiReBuy and the strategy as a whole had been met "with cautious optimism".
"Some have yet to feel the benefit of spending decisions moving away from local level, but if FiReBuy delivers, everyone will be happy," he said.
Hayden also anticipates an improvement in product standardisation and equipment inter-operability between services.
"The benefits on offer are higher quality goods - not just cheaper - and the introduction
of national technical standards, which will ensure that in an emergency situation we can recharge each others' air cylinders whether we are from London or the North East."
He also welcomed the national strategy as an opportunity to set up better training for purchasers.
"We want to get firefighters back to the front line and have more professional purchasers in to do purchasing jobs," he said.
Brewer added that there is currently "a paucity of procurement skills in the fire service" and said that it needed to increase the number of staff with qualifications.
Additional benefits expected through the national procurement strategy and FiReBuy include improved supplier relations and market development.