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29 October 2013 | Will Green
Local authorities do not like being “mandated by central government” and procure very well, MPs were told at the first hearing of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee's (CLGC’s) review of local government procurement.
Buyers were asked if they thought they procured better than the private sector and whether a centralised purchasing organisation would suit local government.
Brian Reynolds, head of productivity at the Local Government Association, told the Communities and Local Government Select Committee (CLGC): “I am not sure a national framework is very helpful. We would say local government procures very well.”
Conservative MP Mark Pawsey asked him: “Do you think you buy better than the private sector?”
Reynolds replied he was not in a procurement role. “I’m not sure I can say. We know what good looks like,” he said.
But in terms of cutting red tape he did concede: “I would accept some of our members do it well, some less well.”
With regard to raising procurement standards for weaker authorities, Reynolds said: “Why do you have to have your own procurement departments? It’s much more effective to work with a neighbouring authority; they will do it for you.”
Asked about a standardised system of procurement led by central government, Reynolds said: “The feedback from our members is they do not like being mandated by central government.”
He said there were 370 local authorities responsible for £60 billion of spend.
“Being responsive to their voters, being responsive to their residents, being held to account for the prices they pay – all seem to be quite important,” he said.
Julie Gill, director of resources at Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “We would need to leave enough flexibility in there so we can be continually innovating.”
MPs, who are investigating local government procurement, were told the threshold at which onerous EU procurement rules kick in should be raised from £173,000 to £5 million.
“There is no evidence across the board to justify that tiny sum,” said Reynolds.
The committee was told the next procurement challenges were around partnering with police and health bodies to deliver services.
Kerry Hallard, of the National Outsourcing Association, told MPs there was a potential £8 billion of savings possible through public sector outsourcing, but Peter Challis of Unison said: “A council working with its own workforce is able to achieve the same thing as the private sector.”