The Home Office’s new online procurement hub for use by 43 police forces across England and Wales has been branded a ‘failure’ in a report released this week by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
It found that by January 2013 fewer than half of forces were using it and only two percent of items were being bought through the hub, compared to the department’s target of 80 percent by 2015.
The committee also said that there is a lack of good data being produced by police forces and commissioners, which in turn makes it difficult for the public to hold them to account for their procurement spend.
“The department cannot persuade enough individual forces to cooperate with its attempts to introduce more centralised procurement, in part because forces are sceptical about the commercial competence of procurement officers working at the centre,” said chair of the PAC, Margaret Hodge.
“National contracts with suppliers are not used by enough forces and do not cover many basic goods and services. Forces’ use of the new, online police procurement ‘hub’ is also woefully below the Home Office’s expectations. By 2013, a miniscule two percent of items were being bought through this central hub, against a target of 80 percent by the end of this parliament.”
She added: “We recognise that police and crime commissioners have authority over local spending but, as the department remains accountable for public money voted by parliament, it cannot step back from value for money issues.”
Home Office commits to new plan for online hub
In 2010-11, the 43 police forces in England and Wales spent nearly £1.7 billion procuring a wide range of goods and services. The Home Office oversees the police service and central government provides most of its funding. The department is responsible for providing parliament with assurance on the value for money of police expenditure, but individual forces buy most goods and services independently.
As a result, the PAC found that there is an ‘institutional tension’ between local autonomy and effective value for money.
“With reduced central government funding to police forces, both individual forces and the department have recognised the need to make procurement savings, for example through more collaboration between forces," it said.
The Home Office has promised the committee that it will provide a plan, including milestones, for how it will turn around the online procurement hub and get police forces collaboratively procuring through it.
The PAC has also recommended that police forces should actively promote supply opportunities that exist to SMEs engaging with individual forces.
Good quality data is vital
Poor quality data is also hindering the Home Office’s ability to deliver efficiencies and savings. The report found that the data which individual police forces and the department publish are usually produced late, to different standards, and presented in a fashion that makes it impenetrable to the public.
Over one third of police forces failed to provide data on procurement savings to the Home Office, and the PAC sees this data as a basic requirement if savings are to be secured.
To rectify this, the department has pledged to carry out a consultation on what data is needed and how it can be published in a user-friendly way.
"Police forces pay widely varying prices for very similar items, which means money is being wasted. The price paid for such basic items as standard-issue boots can vary from £25 to £114, or £14 to £43 for handcuffs,” said Hodge.
“This is even the case where items are identical. It cannot be right that prices paid for the same type of high-visibility jacket varied by as much as 33 percent.”
She added: “With central funding being cut, police forces must ensure they get best value for money from procurement so that they can focus resources on fighting crime.”