0370 270 6000

already registered?

Please sign in with your existing account details.

need to register?

Register to access exclusive content, sign up to receive our updates and personalise your experience on brownejacobson.com.

Privacy statement - Terms and conditions

delivering the ambition: National Procurement Strategy for Local Government in England 2018

17 August 2018

This article is taken from August's public matters newsletter. Click here to view more articles from this issue.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has released its National Procurement Strategy for Local Government in England 2018. The strategy is aimed at assisting councils in meeting the three key themes:

  • showing leadership
  • behaving commercially
  • achieving community benefits.

The document is welcome because it signifies perhaps the strongest statement from local government that procurement is critical to deliver maximum benefits locally for council spending and in delivering on social value. At last, one might say, the importance of the function and the teams delivering procurement to the local authority is finally recognised. The strategy is accompanied by a toolkit, which provides more detail in the types of actions and behaviours necessary to achieve the three themes and what are called ‘enablers’ (being the cost-cutting issues to bring about the ambition of the council).

Nearly every local authority will spend at least half of its budget on the purchase of services, supplies and works, compared to the cost of employing staff to deliver direct services. How many, though, have a procurement team approaching anywhere near the size of its HR team? It has always struck us as odd that comparable sized businesses might have a much larger procurement function. Those buying teams are critical to the overall profitability and success of the business and the skillsets of such teams in purchase and supply is typically very high. Yet private enterprise buys outside of a regulatory framework. Unlike the public sector, they do not need to know their way around the labyrinth of public procurement rules. So the job of the local authority procurement officer is much tougher than that of the counterpart in commerce.

The three key themes of the document are all to be applauded. Procurement is not a checklist, but a key contribution to how the council functions.

Perhaps the most important of the themes is the first of them, with the emphasis on the need to engage councillors and senior managers. Nobody should doubt that the challenges facing today’s local authority leadership is difficult and varied and becoming harder by the day. It is no surprise that procurement is not at the top of the in-tray. The key challenge for the strategy is to get the message across that procurement has a key role not only in managing the council’s finances, but also in contributing to better communities, economic well-being and social value.

The second theme is about behaving commercially. In truth, this really is taking the strategy into broader areas. The key points are not so much about what and how something is procured, but how contracts are subsequently managed and how the councils approach strategic risk. This is hugely important, especially in the light of the demise of Carillion and increasing concern about the continuing value of outsourced and PFI contracts. However, this has not traditionally been the role of the procurement function and really opens up a bigger piece of work on how contracts are best managed. Contract management as a function shares the same woes as that of procurement – underfunding and lack of perceived importance.

It is important to read the strategy with the toolkit. The toolkit takes the reader into critical areas such as managing contracts and relationships, managing strategic risk and enabling opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) engagement. The ‘enablers’ point to the challenges ahead for local government procurement: developing talent, exploiting digital technology, enabling innovation, and embedding change. Whilst the key themes and the identification of the enablers are undoubtedly well-founded, the strategy has a number of weaknesses in the details.

The presentation of what it wants councils to achieve is done entirely through a table of how it would define a council in its procurement function, being Minimum, Developing, Mature, Leader and Innovator. This has echoes of the first attempt at the comprehensive performance assessment, but the categories seem rather too inflexible and push councils to aspire to achieve certain outcomes which might not always be appropriate.

The emphasis on innovation is not per se a bad one. Indeed, we strongly support the application of innovation in procurement and the use of procurement to bring about more innovative outcomes for local government in embracing new opportunities in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), smart cities and disruptive technologies more generally. However, procurement also involves purchasing at a more mundane level and it would have been helpful had it also focused on this, particularly in the use of frameworks and dynamic purchasing systems and purchasing through consortia.

However, any criticism should not detract from the strong statement of intent about the importance of procurement. Martin Reeves, National Procurement Champion and Chief Executive of Coventry City Council says in his foreword of the strategy that “no council can afford to ignore it”. He is absolutely right.

Receive our latest government sector news

Choose the way you want to keep up to date with our latest updates and insights. Sign up to our monthly newsletter or join the conversation with our team on LinkedIn.

Sign up to receive updates >

Follow our LinkedIn showcase page >


training and events


In-house lawyers' update Nottingham office

Our next in-house lawyers' sessions will give in-house lawyers the tools and strategies for dealing with some of the problems caused by recent changes to the law.

View event


Claims Club London office

We will be discussing: whether housing disrepair is the new PPI; school claims; and a legal update on 'hot topics'.

View event

focus on...

Brexit resources

General elections – the role of the Acting Returning Officer

If the news is anything to go by, we are likely to have our third UK Parliamentary Election in five years soon.

View brexit resources

Brexit resources

What does no-deal Brexit mean for public procurement?

The UK has been immersed in negotiations to unravel the UK from EU law by the Brexit day on 31 March 2019.

View brexit resources

Brexit resources

Brexit: data protection law and local authorities?

The political situation in Westminster continues to evolve and it is unclear what will happen on October 31st – in particular whether we will remain, leave, or whether there will be a transitional arrangement to bridge the gap?

View brexit resources

Brexit resources

Contract drafting and Brexit: considerations for local authorities

As Brexit Day inches closer there are many things for local authorities to consider. One of which is whether contracts already in place or currently being negotiated will still be accurate or support council business after Brexit.

View brexit resources

The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

mailing list sign up

Select which mailings you would like to receive from us.

Sign up