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No record of procurement claim check

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There is no record of government statisticians testing controversial research by private-sector consultants before it was endorsed by communities secretary Eric Pickles in a departmental press release, LGC has learnt.

Special advisers to Mr Pickles had previously said research by Opera Solutions – which claimed councils could save £10bn through smarter procurement – had been “signed off” by statisticians at the Department for Communities & Local Government.

But the department has admitted to LGC that there is no record of any testing of the research. In fact, the involvement of DCLG statisticians appears to go no further than checking that a figure of £10bn would equate to £452 per household as claimed in the press release.

LGC submitted a Freedom of Information Act request after Mr Pickles’ adviser Giles Kenningham said the research had been “signed off” by departmental statisticians and “we were comfortable with the results”.

The department replied saying it had found no record of statisticians testing the research and that, while statisticians were consulted about the press release which cited the research, they did not pass any comment on the research paper itself.

In response to LGC’s request for a copy of the testing results, the department said: “I regret to advise you that, following a search of our paper and electronic records, the information you requested is not held by DCLG.

“However, the press release from last June which referred to the research was cleared by ministers and civil servants in line with standard procedures. This included consultation with department statisticians.”

In relation to this consultation, the department released an email exchange which shows statisticians were emailed a copy of the press release before it was published, but were told “procurement officials have seen and commented” on the Opera Solutions research.

There was no discussion of the validity of the £10bn saving claimed by the report. LGC has requested details of the comments made by the procurement officials.

Opera’s research has proved controversial ever since it was hailed in the June 2011 press release as “new, cutting edge analysis of council spending data by procurement experts Opera Solutions”.

The release quoted Mr Pickles saying: “Let there be no doubt whatsoever - today’s figures show that there is significant scope for councils to make taxpayers’ money work even harder.”

In April, Private Eye magazine obtained information through the Freedom of Information Act which showed that the communities secretary’s other special adviser, Sheridan Westlake, left, had deleted emails between himself and representatives of Opera.



The Email Exchange

From: DCLG press officer

To: DCLG statistician 1

Subject: Local authority procurement

I am planning on issuing the following story this morning. Given that it has a few numbers in I wondered if you wouldn’t mind casting your eye over it.

The £10bn is from the following research report - procurement officials have seen and commented.

The comparison to wages is based on LGA data on salaries [Earnings survey 2010-11.xls attached] and the household savings figure was based on figures contained here that [DCLG statistician 3] kindly provided.

[Draft press release attached.]


From: DCLG statistician 1

To: DCLG press officer

Subject: RE: Local authority procurement

From a numbers point of the £452 has been calculated correctly.
I have copied [DCLG statistician 2] in because he deals with looks at LGA data on salaries. I would imagine this was fine as well though.

Thanks for checking with us, appreciated,


From: DCLG press officer

To: DCLG statistician 1

Subject: RE: Local authority procurement


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Readers' comments (1)

  • There is a very strong case for better procurement but this is no way to go about it and it represents a level of professionalism and propriety that that would match the practices of our banks. Hopefully this exposure will ensure that Pickles does no build corresponding exaggerated savings assumptions into grant settlements.

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