05 January 2006 | Anusha Bradley
The leadership required to establish good procurement practice at local councils is "sadly lacking".
That is the verdict of Peter Howarth, chief executive of the Society of Procurement Officers in Local Government (Sopo), after an Audit Commission report revealed local authorities' poor performance in securing value for money.
He told SM
that many council leaders needed "a wake-up call" for failing to realise what purchasers could do to secure greater savings.
Agreeing with Howarth, Sopo chairman David Pointon said: "More authorities need to recognise the role that professional procurers can play in delivering efficiencies and cost savings."
Remarking on the results of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment - the Harder Test, Scores and Analysis of Performance in Single Tier and County Councils 2005
, Howarth said it was no surprise that authorities with good procurement arrangements performed best overall.
"Improving procurement is an easy win, but many chief executives are reluctant to invest in the skills needed," he said.
He added that both Sopo and council purchasers had to work harder to promote procurement.
It is the first time a "value for money" category has been included in the Audit Commission's assessment of the quality of councils' services and delivery.
Only three authorities achieved top marks - four out of four - for attaining value for money. They were Wandsworth, City of London and East Riding of Yorkshire. Half of all authorities were found to be only just meeting, or failing to achieve, the bare minimum.
Pointon said: "While the figures are not sparkling, we are seeing some green shoots."
He added that the procurement savings of £56.7 mllion achieved by local government so far proved that authorities are well on target.
But he said there was a lack of highly skilled purchasers to meet the sudden need of local councils under scrutiny to deliver savings.
Pointon said while it will take time for the profession to develop the skills required to meet this demand, he expects councils' value for money scores to "significantly" improve by next year.
Sopo is offering free membership to elected members and chief executives who want to learn more.