24 October 2008 | Jake Kanter
Public sector buyers are "overloaded" with "contradictory" policies and are unsure what to prioritise.
Addressing the Westminster Sustainable Buying Forum in London this month, Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats' economics spokesman, said: "Public procurement is becoming a vehicle for policies. There is a danger that policy can become conflicting or tokenistic and not have an effect. We need discussion on how it can be applied effectively."
Peter Gilroy, chief executive of Kent County Council, added: "Buyers are overloaded with government expectations, some of which are contradictory. On one hand they have to make sure they consider SMEs and on the other, they have got to secure value for money."
Government buyers must apply sustainable policy where they feel it is appropriate, said John Stewart, director of policy and standards at the OGC.
He said: "We have to deal with agendas and find ways in which they are relevant to what we buy."
Speaking to SM, other public sector buyers agree they have much to consider when going to market but believe it is part of their duty to influence wider social issues. Liam Gormley, buyer at Newcastle City Council, said he has to deal with many agendas when purchasing food for the authority.
"Keeping prices down is a high priority, and challenging at present," he said. "Government health agendas have a large influence on what we can buy. At the same time we are being asked to look at animal welfare and draw up a cruelty-free food policy."
Paul Murphy, category review manager at Bedfordshire County Council, agreed: "There is confusion over policies and greater pressure to achieve cashable savings to the bottom line, while being more sustainable."
Murphy added that cash savings often take greater priority in most organisations and sustainable targets are put back or remain an ambition.
Gary Moore is strategic procurement manager at Bournemouth Borough Council. He said it is important purchasers identify which sustainable agendas their organisation values the most and focus on them.
"To address all priorities when there are invariably too many means you will be spread thinly, which increases the probability of failing on all of them.
"Select valuable targets and make sure you hit them."