The UK government has “gaps” in its procurement targets and standards as it seeks to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
In a report the NAO said government buying standards had not been updated in years, there had been “slow progress” on procurement of low-emission vehicles, and departments were only required to describe their approach to sustainable procurement rather than report percentage compliance with the standards.
“We have assessed government’s activities to reduce its own emissions through its estate management and procurement practices,” said the NAO. “Overall, we found that while there were aspects of good performance, there are several gaps in coverage of government targets and standards.”
The NAO said the 11 government buying standards – broad product specifications across areas including construction and transport – enabled “public procurers to get a quick insight into key sustainability issues when planning a procurement, including mandatory and best practice levels”.
But only one standard was updated in 2017 and the remaining 10 were last updated “in either 2012 or 2015”.
The report said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the second largest buyer of goods and services across government, and the Department for Transport “did not know how they were performing against procurement standards as they did not collate the data”.
There is a target that 25% of the government’s car fleet should be ultra-low emission vehicles by 2022 but there has been “slow progress”. Just 0.1% of the Ministry of Defence’s non-military fleet was ultra-low emission in August 2019 and just 16 of the MoJ’s 1,483 vehicles were in March 2020.
The NAO noted new targets associated with Greening Government Commitments were due in April 2021 and new procurement requirements will come into force in January 2021. The procurement requirements will put a minimum 10% weighting on social value, such as environmental impacts, said the report.
The report said the Cabinet Office was “in the early stages of developing options to set higher expectations of strategic suppliers bidding for central government contracts”.
The NAO said central government departments had reduced emissions from their buildings and operations by an estimated 46% since 2009-10 but targets had “not covered significant areas of impact outside of central government, like schools and the NHS”.
It said achieving net zero would likely cost “hundreds of billions of pounds” but the “costs of inaction would be far greater because of the need to adapt to substantial climate change, such as building flood defences and dealing with the health impacts of higher temperatures”.
“Managing government’s own emissions is important as it can lead by example as part of the overall efforts to achieve net zero,” said the NAO.
“In 2018, public sector buildings emitted eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, 9% of all emissions in the buildings sector. Additionally, the approach taken both by central and local government to reducing emissions has a wider impact in building credibility and trust that net zero is a priority, and to pilot initiatives and build supply chains for low-carbon technologies before, or as part of, wider roll-out.”
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.