Review urges fire service to 'never buy alone'

21 May 2013

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21 May 2013 | Andy Allen

Collaborative procurement could help England’s 46 fire and rescue authorities save up to £200 million, according to an independent review.

Sir Ken Knight’s Facing the Future report criticised the fact that in the past decade there had been a 40 per cent reduction in call-outs and incidents, yet spending had remained broadly the same.

“Services continue to spend according to the budget they are given rather than to the risks they have to manage,” said the review, adding the cost per head of providing a service was almost double in some areas compared with others.

If high-spending authorities could reduce expenditure to the national average, then the money saved or reinvested could amount to nearly £200 million per year, the report said.

Unlike police forces, that in 2011 were forced to use national framework contracts for much of their procurement, fire authorities have widespread duplication within the procurement process.

“What is clear is that authorities should adopt a principle of never buying alone,” said the report. “Where they do buy alone, because they have driven a harder bargain and made savings, they should share their experiences so that other authorities can benefit.”

The review said it was “disappointing to see that only a handful of fire and rescue authorities” had used the Cabinet Office procurement pipelines, an initiative that highlights future opportunities for suppliers.

Sir Ken highlighted the duplication of effort in designing, commissioning and evaluating new products. He cited a case where four authorities had started from scratch in sourcing broadly the same product.

“Authorities need to be prepared to buy generic items that meet their needs rather than falling into the trap of over-specification,” the report said.

“Tellingly, nearly all areas said they were open to letting other areas use their contracts – but few seem prepared to just buy from another service’s contract,” it added.

“The lack of learning between fire and rescue authorities leads to an authority testing and approving a new product or new design even where it has already been tested and approved in another authority,” the report said.

However, the report praised a collaboration between several authorities on contracts for work wear, protective clothing, breathing apparatus, officers’ cars and specialist training, which had saved £900,000 since 2010/11. The authorities had also agreed to jointly procure fire engines, saving £18,000-20,000 per vehicle.

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