Council purchasers call for guidance on sustainability

3 November 2005
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03 November 2005 | Rebecca Ellinor

The sustainability performance of councils must be measured if it is to become a priority for local government. That was the view of buyers at Leading by Example - Sustainable Procurement in the Public Sector, a conference held in London at the end of October.

Delegates said that imposing basic requirements would give them the support they needed to source in a socially, economically and environmentally friendly way. One local authority buyer said: "We need minimum standards for the public sector as a whole; promotion of sustainable procurement through the centres of excellence; and to be tested through comprehensive performance assessment. Councils should be benchmarked using these minimum standards." But environment minister Elliot Morley took a different view: "We would much rather these innovations come through because local authorities have the will to do it."

However, he added, strategic targets could have a role in ensuring that all councils reach the standard of the top-performing authorities. Gordon Murray, programme manager for procurement within efficiency services for the Improvement and Development Agency, suggested councils set their own key performance indicators. He said each should put a percentage on, for example, contracts awarded following best sustainable procurement practice and corporate spend using small firms.

"If you do this and collect the information, by the time it gets to 2009 we won't need to ask if we're among the best because we'll have the evidence to show it."

The conference was hosted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Office of Government Commerce and its executive agency OGCbuying.solutions. It was led by Sir Neville Simms, chairman of the Sustainable Procurement Task Force, and aimed to inform buyers about developments and best practice.

The Task Force has until April to complete a plan examining how the government can use its £125 billion budget for central and local government goods and services to further sustainable procurement, and ensure the UK is among EU leaders in this field by 2009.

Simms said one Task Force group was working on how to combine economic, environmental and social considerations to measure performance on sustainable procurement.

But he added: "This is difficult, sophisticated stuff: we do not underestimate the task." Local authority buyers who would like advice or wish to contribute to the Sustainable Procurement Task Force plan can e-mail sdudiv@defra.gsi.gov.uk , for more details.

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