English fire and rescue services buying identical kit at ‘vastly different prices’

Gurjit Degun
18 March 2014

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18 March 2014 | Gurjit Degun

Fire and rescue services in England could save £18 million by improving the way they source and purchase clothing and equipment for firefighters.

Research published by the government shows that the 46 fire and rescue services across the country are buying identical kit at “vastly different prices”.

It found prices for the same kit, such as protective equipment, foam and breathing apparatus, can vary by as much as 200 per cent with a pair of protective trousers costing between £125 and £274. When the same supplier was used, prices varied by a quarter – a fire helmet can cost between £105 and £131. And when the same contract was used there is still a significant price range of 66 per cent, as a fire coat can cost between £220 and £366.

The report said the services could save £18 million from a total spend of £127 million a year. “The savings could be even greater if applied to all purchases by all fire services, which spend an estimated £600 million each year on buying equipment and fire engines,” it added.

It recommends the authorities should agree “a common classification of goods and services”; produce an index of prices paid on kit to avoid paying more for the same product; secure internal partnership arrangements; manage supplier relationship and contracts better; and develop a collaborative buying strategy for common non-fire goods and services.

The report also said the services should develop a “national procurement pipeline plan” that documents existing contract periods, future tendering exercises and large-scale procurement opportunities.

The findings follow last year’s report by former chief firefighter Sir Ken Knight which called for collaborative procurement to save up to £200 million. The government is yet to publish its response to the report.

Fire minister Brandon Lewis said: “The case for change is compelling. It is vital that the importance of effective procurement is recognised within fire and rescue authorities and that it is supported from the top down.

“Fire and rescue authorities no longer have the luxury of being able to buy alone - they need to work together to deliver the best value for money, as well as share resources, knowledge and best practice.

“Tax payers are right to expect the most cost effective processes and will rightly hold fire and rescue authorities to account if they fail to make the necessary changes to drive better procurement.”

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