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PAC slams failure to join-up police purchasing

By Judith Ugwumadu | 17 September 2013

Home Office attempts to encourage police forces to improve their procurement practices have not been a success, the Public Accounts Committee said today.

In a review of police spending, the PAC found that police forces pay ‘widely varying prices’ for very similar items. The price paid for basic items such as standard-issue boots can vary from £25 to £114 per pair, or £14 to £43 for a pair of handcuffs. Even where items are identical, prices vary considerably, ‘by 33% for one type of high-visibility jacket’, the Police procurement report stated. 

Take-up of Whitehall initiatives to improve buying had been patchy, the MPs said. By June 2012, the Home Office expected all forces to be using its national procurement hub, an online marketplace to buy police products. Yet, by January 2013, fewer than half of forces were using it – only 2% of items were been bought through the hub, compared to the department’s target of 80% by the end of this parliament. 

PAC chair Margaret Hodge said the Home Office had not been able to persuade enough individual forces to cooperate with its attempts to introduce more centralised procurement. 

‘In part [this is] because forces are sceptical about commercial competence of procurement officers working at the centre,’ she said. 

‘Forces can make big savings through bulk-buying of items, but have been unable to agree on the simplest things, like how many pockets they should have on their uniforms.’

Existing national contracts with suppliers were not used by enough forces and do not cover many basic goods and services, Hodge added.

Better collaboration between forces would improve accountability and help secure savings, the PAC said. The ‘greatest’ benefits could be achieved through either standardising buying or introducing a national procurement approach. 

Hodge welcomed the Home Office’s appointment of a new accounting officer to secure better value for money and ‘get to grips with the problem’. The officer will use incentives along with clear financial penalties to ensure police forces collaborate and purchase together to secure better prices and bigger savings through bulk buying.

Despite police and crime commissioners’ authority over local spending, the Home Office remains accountable for public money voted by Parliament, she added. ‘It cannot step back from value for money issues.’ 

A Home Office spokeswoman said: ‘We welcome this report and its conclusions. We recognise the need to show police and crime commissioners the potential benefits of working collaboratively and using the Police Procurement Hub.

‘Forces have already saved more than £100m to date through better procurement and we are determined to work with PCCs to ensure they get best value for every penny of taxpayers’ money.’

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