The Audit Commission inspection team gave the service, which directly infulences some£650m of council spending, two stars out of a possible three. Procurement from the most appropriate suppliers is securing goods and services at competitive prices and significant savings have already been made. The council works collaboratively with other Essex authorities and has been active in the early successes of the Procurement Agency for Essex.
'The council has recognised the benefits that improved procurement practice can offer and has put in place policies, procedures and a professional team to deliver those benefits. Significant savings have already been made and over£13m is expected by 2006/07. There is progress in areas such as highways, social care and education. The council has also shown that it is willing to share its knowledge and expertise with other authorities to improve value for money across the county.'
The inspectors found that the council demonstrated much good procurement practice and recognised the potential for further improvement:
* The procurement strategy is clearly linked to the priorities set out in the council's corporate plan 'The Essex Aproach'
* The council gets together with other authorities to buy goods and services competitively
* The procurement unit is influencing over areas of expenditure it does not directly control and is well regarded for its professional knowledge
* However, it is not always clear what improvements in service quality are expected through better procurement and the savings targets are not sufficiently challenging
To help the service improve, inspectors recommended that the council should:
* Re-examine the savings and perfomance improvement targets across the whole authority and establish new challenging targets that wil make a real difference to residents
* Establish practical procurement tools and procedures to help front line managers
* Continue to develop the existng strategic partnership contracts
Essex CC has a centralised procurement function with 60 staff. The council's overall budget for 2004/05 was£1.3bn and procurement staff currently influence about£650m of expenditure.
Copies of the report are available on the Audit Commission website at www.audit-commission.gov.uk