16 March 2006 | Rebecca Ellinor
A preoccupation with cost and confusion over leadership has stunted the progress of sustainable procurement.
A report from the House of Commons' Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), published last week, calls for champions to be established in every government department and said the issue should be at the "core of purchasing".
Given the concern over climate change, carbon emissions targets and threats to biodiversity, "environmental considerations should be treated as seriously as purely financial considerations," according to Sustainable procurement: the way forward
The EAC said cabinet-level leadership was required to promote it effectively and that the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) should lead on the issue, supported by the chief secretary to the treasury.
The committee proposed that the OGC report to parliament on progress every year.
The report also calls on the Sustainable Procurement Task Force (SPTF) to ensure its action plan, due next month, "deals with confusion of leadership over sustainable procurement decisively". Without leadership, the committee warned, the plan was in danger of being "read, then ignored".
It also said the tension between social responsibility and cost must be immediately addressed.
"In many government departments there is still a clearly undesirable tension between what is seen as cost-effective and what is seen as sustainable procurement.
"A case can be made from the principles of sustainable development alone and so it is not cost-dependent. But sustainable choices often work out cheaper in the long-term."
At a conference led by Sir Neville Simms, chairman of the SPTF in October, local government buyers said the green performance of councils must be measured if it is to become a priority.
The EAC recommends that a target or new Public Service Agreement should be set to make sustainable procurement a priority. It also called for targets to be agreed for local authorities.
Katherine Adams, sustainable procurement manager for Camden council, which is highlighted in the report as an example of best practice, told SM
: "It would be useful for local government to have this kind of support and specific targets."
The EAC said it hoped the "significant and clear accord" between its conclusions and that of its predecessor committee and a National Audit Office (NAO) report published in September should serve as notice to the government that the condition of responsible procurement is "far from satisfactory".
After the EAC published its conclusions, an OGC spokesman told SM
: "We will look at the report and there will be a government response in due course."