19 January 2006 | Anusha Bradley
Fire and rescue services need to "rigorously" improve procurement practices to ensure they are getting better value for money.
In the first report of its kind, the Audit Commission analysed the financial performance of all England's fire and rescue authorities, which collectively spent £1.7 billion in 2003-04.
It found over two-thirds of services achieved the minimum in value for money requirements, but only three performed "well above" this level.
The commission said getting the basics right - including procurement practices, asset management and budget monitoring - "should be rigorously and consistently pursued" to improve value for money.
Smaller services were less likely to achieve value for money, it said, while larger metropolitan services had better control and economies of scale. Essex, Merseyside, Norfolk and Northumberland were highlighted as those with good value for money practices in place.
The report, published last week, found a lack of partnership and co-operation between authorities was a "weakness" for many. It said efficiency savings would result from collaboration.
"They must maximise their capacity and develop additional capacity through partnerships. These underpin sound resource management and delivery of value for money," it concluded.
As reported in SM
(Features, 15 December), from April this year a new national procurement agency, FiReBuy, aims to maximise authorities purchasing power by buying major products and services nationally.
Terry Brewer, FiReBuy interim chief executive, told SM
in December that the existing procurement, carried out by the individual fire authorities, reduces their purchasing clout and ability to influence the market.