Some fire departments in England are paying thousands of pounds more for comparable items, Home Office statistics have revealed.
The statistics were released as part of a push to get authorities to buy collaboratively in order to reduce costs.
“It makes no sense for fire and rescue authorities to buy separately when there are both financial and operational benefits to buying together,” said Brandon Lewis, the minister for policing and the fire service.
This is the first time nationwide statistics on fire authority procurement have been released. The data shows the unit price of 25 common pieces of equipment, including clothing, protective equipment and vehicles, across all 45 authorities in England.
It showed while authorities paid similar prices some equipment, there were large disparities between some items.
- Avon paid £1,100 each for two emergency defibrillators, while Oxfordshire paid £775 a unit for 40 and East Sussex only paid £595 a unit for 31.
- Shropshire paid £5,521 each for five handheld thermal imaging cameras, around £1,000 to £2,000 more than most. However, County Durham and Darlington only paid £875 a unit for 17 cameras.
- Hertfordshire bought one portable ladder for £1,451, while London Fire Brigade bought 20 and paid £3,607 each.
- Cornwall paid £1,504 each for 220 sets of breathing apparatus, while Devon and Somerset paid £420 each for 15.
- There were also disparities between the prices paid for fire engines themselves, with some authorities paying over £270,000 per vehicle and others paying less than £130,000.
The government said in a statement it was “determined to help authorities adopt a collaborative approach”, citing both cost savings and operational benefits of standardising equipment purchases.
“While some fire and rescue authorities are already collaborating on procurement and reaping the benefits, there is still a lot more to be done,” said Lewis. “I hope to increase transparency and encourage the sector to take on the challenge of reforming its own commercial landscape.”
The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), representing senior fire officers across the UK, has said work is already under way to ensure “communities get the best value for money from the fire service”
Paul Hancock, president of CFOA, said the organisation recognises there are differences in equipment costs across the sector and are working to address this.
"We have already identified categories of high expenditure which offer the greatest opportunities for savings from collaboration,” he said. “We are very supportive of this piece of work by the Home Office and will continue to work closely with them."
In 2013 a review by Sir Ken Knight said fire authorities should “adopt a principle of never buying alone”, and in January this year the Home Office proposed plans to consolidate procurement and other back office functions of the emergency services.
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