Council overhauls procurement policy to help local suppliers

Argyll and Bute Council has updated its procurement strategy to make it easier for small suppliers to bid for work with the local authority. 

The council outlined in its 2021-22 procurement strategy it is aiming “to facilitate participation from local contractors in the procurement process to increase opportunity for local spend where possible”.

It has announced a series of measures to make it easier for local suppliers to apply for work, including implementing dynamic purchasing systems to enable local suppliers the opportunity to access council contracts, simplifying tender documents, holding supplier engagement events across the Argyll and Bute area, and establishing community benefits clauses. 

The news comes as a report by think tank Localis highlighted how public procurement models can benefit local communities. 

The council's strategy recognised the barriers often faced by smaller organisations with limited resources in bidding for work. 

The council recognised that while “it would not be acceptable to give preference to local businesses during any particular procurement, efforts will continue to be made to ensure that local businesses are given the opportunity to bid for our contracts and to have the greatest chance of being successful in winning council and other public sector business”.

Councillor Mary-Jean Devon, policy lead for support services, said: “Ensuring the best value, we want to make the process of working with our procurement team as simple as possible for suppliers, contractors and small to medium sized businesses.

“That’s particularly important in light of the challenging times so many of our supplier partners have faced in recent months.

“We recognise the extremely important role all these groups play in supplying the goods and services that help support all the council’s operations. Our aim is to increase efficiency, guarantee community benefit where possible and demonstrate best value improvements for Argyll and Bute.”

Localis’ report True Value: towards ethical public service commissioning, found councils spent £180.6bn on goods and services from third parties in the last three years, with £63bn alone being spent on third parties in 2019-20.

The report stressed local governments should see the UK’s exit of the European Union as a chance to reimagine local public procurement, as EU directives required contracts to be awarded to the lowest bidder. 

Localis chief executive Jonathan Werran said: “Procurement has been very much a criminally-neglected art, whose skills and potential impact are more vital now than ever post Brexit. 

“The extent to which better public service commissioning can be harnessed to attain a marked increase in public efficiency and social benefit won’t attract the hullaballoo raised around other domestic policy issues.

“But in shaping and improving the daily life of ordinary people everywhere, it’s every bit as important as issues which attract louder concern. If not more so.

“The trick for the next decade will be to boost the value of the local pound in making local economies stronger for people and places, whether through better local wages or enhanced skills acquisition for jobs in the age of net zero.”

The report set out a charter for ethical public procurement as part of reforms to public spending on goods and services. 

It recommended increasing transparency in the tendering process, making simple contract registers publicly available, tailoring opportunities to local specifications, ensuring prompt payments to suppliers and spreading SME spending across as many local firms as possible.

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