28 June 2007 | Antony Barton
Local authorities must change their procurement practices to help voluntary and community organisations.
A report from the National Audit Office looks at whether Local Area Agreements (LAAs) promote value for money in the way government works with third sector organisations (TSOs). It also assesses their impact on TSOs' delivery of public services.
LAAs are a form of contract between central and local government and aim to provide local communities with more power over public services. The amount of expenditure these cover is expected to reach £5 billion in the next three years.
The report recognises government has introduced a range of initiatives to support TSOs and to encourage public bodies to work with them, particularly in public procurement and grant funding.
But it says LAAs are seen by TSOs as mere statements of principle, which need to be followed up by changes in commissioning and procurement practice at local level.
It adds that where LAAs are put into practice, it takes time for local authorities to adjust their procurement systems "at a time when fundamental changes to services, separate from the LAA, were occurring simultaneously".
One of the report's recommendations is for the Office of the Third Sector and HM Treasury to ensure the national training programme for public commissioners and procurement officers, announced in 2006, includes strong representation from local authorities.
It also says these departments should improve the data on local funding of TSOs, which is currently "very weak".