Transparent tendering needed to boost local economy

16 June 2011

16 June 2011 | Lindsay Clark

Clear and accessible tendering is key to engaging with local suppliers, Manchester City Council’s procurement head has said.

Although part of the council’s remit is to boost the local economy, in order to tackle problems such as ‘worklessness’ (people who are not in work, full-time education or training, and are not actively seeking work) poor health and crime, EU procurement law prevents it from specifying that local suppliers carry out a contract.

“It’s not about [procurement] trying to do things for local employers, we do that through our economic development group,” said Ian Brown, head of procurement at Manchester City Council, speaking yesterday at the Public Procurement Show in London. “It’s about having the tender process and procedures that get out to everybody and give [local suppliers] the same opportunities to get bids in.”

Procurement is able to help the local economy by making sustainability, with an emphasis on training or economic development, part of the selection criteria. “What you find is local suppliers… are best-placed to win it in terms of understanding the area and the problems we’ve got, and they know how to approach that in their bids,” Brown said. “If you have not got a very clear tender process, you’ll struggle.”

Research by think tank Centrefor Local Economic Strategies (CLES) showed that of the council’s £357 million procurement spend, 51 per cent went to local suppliers. It found the council’s top suppliers spend 25p in every pound they received from the council on the local economy.

“It’s about communication,” Brown said. “We were very poor at communicating with our suppliers, other than going out to tender. What we’ve learned is to engage with them regularly, through a supplier forum, we have regular meetings with all our suppliers across all ranges.”

One of the most surprising outcomes was how suppliers came to believe in local objectives, Brown said. The council’s largest construction supplier, LaingO'Rourke, said it was really proud that it had built a school that had improved attendance by more than 75 per cent, he said. “I would never have put that down to a construction company. They do the job, make the money and away they go… but because they had been partnering with us for a number of years, they were hooked into our ethos.”

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