Local government buying structure 'very confused'

5 July 2006
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06 July 2006

The complexity of local government procurement structure is making it difficult for buyers to identify the best deals, according to the heads of a Regional Centre of Excellence (RCE).

Speaking at the Procurement Solutions for the Public Sector event in London last month, Nicol Thornton, assistant director of the East of England Centre of Excellence, said: "We need to un-complicate the procurement architecture in local government.

"Which organisations are best placed for which types of procurement? Are some better nationally, regionally or locally?"

He said the plethora of buying consortia, cross-buying groups and buying models, which offer varying levels of coverage and service, often make it difficult for local government buyers to know where to get the best deal.

Thornton added that councils are also offered similar services by a variety of groups. For example, OGCbuying.solutions, the Central Buying Consortium and Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation all offer mobile phone deals for councils in the East of England.

But, he added, the RCEs are reviewing the local government procurement framework to see if it could be better organised.

One suggestion put forward by the RCEs is to move the tactical spend of small, low-risk items to regional buying consortia.

"Why spend time on it when there are organisations who do it day in day out?" said Thornton.

Steve Holland, director of the East of England RCE, said: "There is a shortage of procurement expertise. We ought to be developing and using procurement hubs, in effect outsourcing much of the procurement activity in each of the 388 local authorities in England."

He said the £38 billion procurement budget of local government could be better spent and added that a national plan on the purchase of commodities would be unveiled by October.

Both Holland and Thornton said by transferring tactical spend elsewhere, local authorities could concentrate on strategic, complex areas of spend. They stressed that purchasers would not be out of a job as a result.

Thornton said buying consortia, OGCbuying.solutions and local government procurement experts had been consulted for the review and had responded positively, but no timetable for change had yet been established.


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