Government must take lead on procurement

Industry and the public sector are waiting with bated breath for central Government to formally announce its plans for sustainable procurement, according to the man who headed up an initiative to draw up an action plan for Whitehall last year.

Speaking at a GovNet conference in London on Wednesday, Sir Neville Simms, chairman of the sustainable Procurement Task Force, told delegates that while many local authorities and businesses had already made huge steps towards greening their buying practices, it was vital that Government showed strong leadership before we saw a step change across the country.

The task force, established last year and given twelve months to draw up a plan for Government, had filed its report six months ago and Sir Neville hinted that Westminster was in danger of losing the initiative if it failed to announce its response to the proposals soon.

“We are now eagerly awaiting a positive and ambitious response from Government on how our recommendations are to be put into action,” he said,

“We need it now if sustainability targets are to be met and the Government’s objectives of being a leader in the EU by 2009 are to be realised.”

He said other countries in Europe and further afield had been examining the British proposals in detail in preparation of their own plans and while Government feedback had been extremely encouraging it was important not to lose the impetus which had been built up so far.

“Central Government should not kick this into the long grass,” he said.

“We can’t afford further delay, it can truly be said that the world is watching and while public and political opinion is in alignment the time to make a step change is now.

“We must get [sustainable procurement] from being the exception and the subjecy of interesting case studies to being standard.”

Helen Ghosh, permanent secretary at Defra, said there were many case studies where Government departments and agencies were getting it right, but good practice needed to be adopted across the board.

She pointed to cases where departments had been caught out by environmental pressure groups or the media who had highlighted unsustainable timber procurement practices or the waste of energy as Whitehall left lights blazing over night and said it was vital to adopt buying strategies that benefited both the environment and the public purse.

While ‘buying stuff’ might not come at the top of people’s perception about what Government does, she said, everything which the public did expect – education, health care and environmental protection, for example – required expenditure.

With its huge budgets, central Government was in a powerful position to influence the supply chain and it was essential that it did not just talk the talk, but walked the walk, showing that purchasing could be socially and environmentally beneficial at the same time as being efficient.

“It’s a win, win situation,” she said.

“The power of procurement at the scale of Government can make efficiency gains but it can also force out sustainable solutions.”

Sam Bond

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