Combine to chop food bills

12 April 2006
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13 April 2006 | Helen Gilbert

The public sector's annual food bill could be cut by £220 million if more organisations improved their purchasing policies, according to the National Audit Office.

An NAO report, published last month, found that while there had been some progress in improving the efficiency, quality and sustainability of food procurement, an extra £220 million could be saved by 2010-11 if further improvements to buying practices were made.

Smarter Food Procurement in the Public Sector found prices paid for some products varied hugely between organisations. A wholemeal loaf, for example, could cost anything between 32p and £1.10.

The report followed an NAO survey of 146 public-sector buying organisations. More than half (51 per cent) of those surveyed did not engage in joint buying, despite 44 per cent using at least two of the same major suppliers. Joint buying could save about £80 million, the NAO said.

Sir John Bourn, NAO comptroller and auditor general, said: "The principal lesson is that gains in efficiency need not be at the expense of, indeed can go along with, improvements to the quality of food and sustainability."

But Colin Saw, hotel services adviser at Portsmouth City Teaching PCT, said measures are needed to improve joint buying to help hospital catering departments reduce costs and meet sustainable food targets.

A spokesperson for NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency agreed and added its collaborative procurement "hubs" would look at possible joint projects with other organisations within their respective regions.

Vincent Godfrey, head of procurement at HM Prison Service, said it is often difficult to recruit and retain skilled food purchasers because the public sector cannot compete with private-sector salaries.

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