Joint DLTR/LGA research has produced a ‘state of the nation’ report on how well local government is performing in its procurement practices.It concludes that while local authorities are well-practised at buying in bulk items like stationery, they are less well-equipped to order in sensitive services such as social care provision.
Organisationally, the study found, local authorities are more likely to centralise routine purchasing functions, and have a senior purchasing officer reporting direct to chief officers.
Beyond common-use items and services, local authorities typically delegate responsibility for procurement and commissioning to individual service departments directly involved in the delivery of a service. The reason given for this is that those closest to the point of delivery should have a good understanding of the client-side and an appreciation of what service-users want – they should also have specific knowledge of the market for that service.
However this structure could mean that the corporate centre is not fully aware of the criteria behind some specialised procurement decisions, even though these can be amongst the most sensitive with the public.
The study, Delivering Better Services for Citizens, was produced by a procurement taskforce chaired by Sir Ian Byatt.
Though it found that this ‘strategic critical’ area of procurement decision-making was where the most improvement could be made. It also found room for improvement in attitude and culture, organisation, the move to e-procurement, the procurement of services (as opposed to goods) and joint procurement.
The DLTR and the LGA will now jointly consult on these findings and Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford will produce an action plan for improvement in the autumn.
Delivering Better Services for Citizens (ISBN 1 851124 85 3) is available at www.dtlr.gov.uk/consult.htm