Purchasers 'must be in boardroom'

21 June 2006

22 June 2006 | Rebecca Ellinor

A task force set up by Tony Blair has recommended all large-spending public-sector organisations appoint their top buyer to the board.

The Sustainable Procurement Task Force was set up by the prime minister last year to examine how the sector's £150 billion budget for goods and services can be used in a way that "achieves value for money on a whole life basis, while accruing benefits to the organisation, society, the economy and the environment".

Chaired by Sir Neville Simms, the task force published its national action plan last week. The report said "all public-sector organisations with procurement spend over £1 billion per annum must appoint commercial director to the board by April 2007."

This proposal was echoed by Sir Digby Jones, director-general of the CBI. He said: "The Department of Health's commercial directorate is a model for this and there is now a central procurement team at the Department for Education and Skills. The Ministry of Defence is recruiting personnel for such a team.

"They are steps in the right direction, but we need to turn those steps into giant strides." The action plan also called on public-sector audit organisations to "make it clear they are auditing for long-term value for money and for sustainability" and for managers to account for failure to meet minimum standards.

Procuring the Future contained a raft of other recommendations which the government will respond to in the autumn. It has appointed cabinet secretary Gus O'Donnell to ensure every UK government department responds to the recommendations.

It also made a number of commitments including one to ensure government offices are carbon neutral by 2012.

Stuart Williams, who heads procurement work at sustainable development charity Forum for the Future, told SM the government response was needed sooner.

"Huge public investment is being poured into unsustainable school and hospital buildings right now, and every month we wait for a new approach will be another one of wasted money and wasted opportunity."

Faiza Rasheed, head of Transport for London's (TfL) policy, strategy and best practice group procurement unit, told SM legislation was needed.

"If the government reports without supporting it with a mandate, what incentives will procurers have?"

However, she added that some - including TfL - are already working on this agenda. Project manager of the task force Barbara Morton told SM the action plan was an excellent opportunity for purchasing professionals to take a more strategic role and show their worth.

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