Sustainable response dismays buyers

15 March 2007

15 March 2007 | Paul Snell

After months of delay, the government has finally responded to the recommendations of the Sustainable Procurement Task Force (SPTF).

And, to the surprise of many involved in the original plan, Whitehall has rejected one of its central aims and failed to build on the momentum the SPTF had generated.

The UK Government Sustainable Procurement Action Plan rejects the suggestion that a single department should take the lead on sustainable procurement.

"Sustainable development is a cross-departmental agenda and no part of it can be delivered by one department acting alone," says the government's response. "We therefore do not believe the single departmental ownership model is appropriate."

The response sets out plans to strengthen sustainable procurement leadership with permanent secretaries accountable for their department's progress. There are also plans to nominate a sustainable procurement "champion" to report directly to the head of the civil service.

Whitehall also said it would begin consultations on the creation of a centre of sustainable procurement excellence.

But it deferred any decision on commercial directors being appointed to boards of departments - as suggested by the SPTF - stating that their representation should be assessed by the OGC.

Buyers had hoped the response would be more ambitious.

Shaun McCarthy, director of Action Sustainability and a member of the SPTF, told SM: "There is no commitment to doing anything other than consult in 2007. It might be 2008 until any coherent support is available."

There were also concerns over the announcement that the OGC would try to incorporate the "flexible framework", drawn up by the task force to outline a timeline of requirements, into a much broader procurement framework.

Stuart Williams, procurement lead at sustainable development charity Forum for the Future, said: "It is light on content. It is quite discouraging there has not been more progress."

Roy Ayliffe, director of professional practice at CIPS, and also a member of the SPTF, was concerned the response only focused on environmental issues, and risked ignoring the SPTF's social and economic recommendations.

Local government and the health service will not respond to the report until "summer 2007". SM understands that Sir Neville Simms, chairman of the SPTF, is consulting with members of the task force, before finalising an official response to the government.

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