08 April 2008 | Paul Snell
English district councils have improved their purchasing over the past three years, but the challenge of asserting their influence continues.
The Procurement Matters! report, researched during 2007 by PSL Consulting, examined how district councils in England have implemented changes to purchasing compared with a similar survey it carried out in 2004.
The latest research found 92 per cent of local authorities now have a procurement strategy in place, up from 76 per cent in 2004. And the same number now have a procurement strategy linked to the council's corporate plan.
Furthermore, 63 per cent of authorities have appointed a designated head of procurement, compared with only 35 per cent three years ago. But purchasing chiefs still do not remain fully represented at senior management levels with 57 per cent of appointments at "manager" rather than "head of service" or "director" level.
According to David Hewitt, director at PSL, the challenge for councils is to move from a "hands-on" procurement role and to take a bigger role in commissioning services. Only 11 per cent of councils surveyed use a model of offering advice to internal customers, rather than doing the work themselves.
"Although procurement has started to be linked to corporate plans, it is not quite linked to the end product. Councils themselves have to engage in a commissioning based role and procurement has to figure in that, to engage in that process and take a leadership role," he said.
But, he warned, heavy focus on making efficiency savings could inhibit the development of commissioning.