24 May 2007
Council purchasers have applauded efforts by local authorities to respond to the government's Sustainable Procurement Action Plan.
The report, which builds on the work of the Sustainable Procurement Task Force (SPTF), was described as "light on content" when it came out earlier this year (News, 15 March)
The Local Authority Group, led by Roger Latham, chief executive of Nottinghamshire County Council, has drafted a local government response, including case studies of sustainable procurement by local authorities.
It identifies the five biggest areas of aggregated council spend as a focus for sustainable procurement. These are construction and facilities management; waste management; energy; transport; and food.
Tony Hall, head of the Welland Procurement Unit, a collaborative shared services centre for five councils in the East Midlands, said: "The report is a really good starting point, as we've been left in limbo."
He added the initiative was a "good thing", as ideas would come from local government and be aimed at local government: "The concentration on priorities is good news, but links with cash targets for achieving them are crucial."
Targets should be tailored to individual councils, he said. If councils currently miss recycling targets, for example, they face financial penalties. But rural councils, such as Welland's members, can only hit targets by collecting green waste that householders could use for compost.
Chris Addey, corporate procurement manager at Luton Borough Council, said the plan gave councils some shared goals to refer to, adding that training in sustainability issues was critical to win the support of council staff and local councillors. "Until people understand what sustainability is about, it's hard to bring them on board," he explained.
Promoting the message requires training for purchasers, council officers, suppliers and even elected councillors, he said. "They have to understand the whole process, not just elements. Whole-life costing is important. In the past, cost has been a large element of the award process."
The SPTF was created by Tony Blair to examine how the public sector's £150 billion annual budget could achieve "value for money while accruing benefits for society, the economy and the environment".