30 November 2005 | Rebecca Ellinor
Council buyers are to be freed up to spend more time on complex purchases under plans to unify commodity spend.
Local government procurement champion Tim Byles said work was under way to explore what commodities could be bought nationally.
The chief executive of Norfolk County Council made the announcement at the Society of Procurement Officers in Local Government (SOPO) conference in London.
He said the move would not only help make savings but would allow council buyers to focus on larger, more challenging areas of spend such as property, social care and construction.
"It's increasingly clear that we're not making the best use of the experts," he said. "We need the skills in highly sensitive areas of policy and delivery such as children's services and social care."
David Pointon, SOPO chairman, said: "The big picture is starting to materialise on the direction of public sector procurement." He said the idea is to prevent organisations doing tenders for the same items, such as photocopiers.
"This is not about big is beautiful; we won't get down to one supplier and one contract, we may end up with a handful."
Pointon stressed the policy had not yet been formulated and emphasised that local authority buyers would be consulted.
"The key relationship is between ourselves and the people doing the job at the moment and how we can work together."
He said SOPO was working with CIPS on the best way to train existing purchasing staff to help them deal with more complicated areas of spend.
"The professional might have skills but not expertise and we'll facilitate that."
Pointon said SOPO would run roadshows around the country to get the message out to officers.
In another conference session, Karen Cherrett, senior executive at local government procurement group 4ps, said purchasing should play a more active role in helping local authorities deliver services together.
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