Years of austerity have left local government with “insufficient” resources to ensure high levels of compliance with modern slavery risk assessments, according to report.
The report, by TISCreport and the Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research, said procurement teams had “insufficient time, staff or funds” to carry out risk assessments.
It said: “A decade of austerity has had a detrimental impact on contract management capacity, making it exceptionally challenging to monitor and manage risks effectively.”
A survey of 25 local authorities conducted for the research found 77% included high-level risk assessments in pre-procurement processes and 84% addressed the issue in T&Cs in new contracts.
But there were gaps in compliance practices with 88% citing lack of time, 81% financial constraints, 61% staff numbers and 50% compliance support.
Public buyers were held back by “patchy” knowledge on how to implement modern slavery risk assessments, demonstrated by “scarcity of supply chain mapping”, lack of in-depth supplier assessments, and “absence of procedures to handle higher risk suppliers”, said the report.
Only 37% of councils had implemented supply chain mapping, while 40% reported “insufficient” third-party data and auditing, and 28% assessed the quality of suppliers’ statements and evidence of supply chain transparency.
The report made recommendations including investing in resources and training, enhancing procedures to bring “more robust analysis” and better risk monitoring in contracts, incorporating modern slavery risk assessments into the full cycle of procurement practice, and the election of a modern slavery ambassador to lead internal work.
Jaya Chakrabarti, CEO of TISCreport, told SM: “Modern slavery can occur in any sector. Around £18bn a year is spent on construction and infrastructure projects alone, which can be high risk contracts in terms of labour exploitation and modern slavery.
“With the urgent demand for PPE, we're seeing a need to be able to speed up due diligence processes in order to react more quickly to our ongoing crisis. Also, as funding gaps widen as a result of the pandemic, and of course Brexit, we will see exploitation and corruption within supply chains increase.”
The independent anti-slavery commissioner’s office said in a statement to SM: “Central government spends £50bn a year on third-party goods and services, with the wider public sector accounting for an additional £200bn.
“There is a real opportunity for local governments to scrutinise and inform strategies to tackle risks of trafficking in supply chains.”
Meanwhile, a public sector initiative has been launched to help procurement in local authorities collaborate and use economies of scale to save £1bn by 2022.
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