In light of the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy that shocked the nation, questions are being raised over local procurement policies across the country. Cost effectiveness and value for money are often the paramount objectives as local authorities continue to face budget cuts. It is paramount however that quality, and more importantly safety, is not jeopardised. Finding the right balance between cost saving and procuring services and products that are fit for purpose is key, but ultimately the welfare and well-being of the end user should be the priority.
Any buyer knows that cost doesn’t necessarily represent value or indeed quality but regardless, detailed specifications are there to be met and for a very important reason. What and who determines the specification, and exactly what this entails, is an important question and something buyers throughout the supply chain must be conscious of.
British safety regulations across many industries tend to be based on principle rather than set rules which can create significant challenges to maintaining consistency and standards. Setting higher standards and adhering to best practice, rather than going with the cheapest bid which meets the specification, is something public procurement officers and regulators must consider.
This reinvigorates the debate over who should set these specifications and regulations. Should they be written by ‘experts’ from the relevant department of the contracting authority, or by that authority’s procurement officers? Or should this role be out-sourced to a third party within that particular industry and sector?
For example and in the case of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, there are no regulations stating fire-retardant cladding material should be used on the exterior of tower blocks and schools. However, it has become clear that industry body, Fire Protection Association (FPA), has been lobbying for this to be a statutory requirement within local authorities and businesses.
Within just one area of local government procurement, say for instance housing and more specifically high rise residential buildings, the vast number of tenders and therefore specifications to be met, add to the complexity. Issues around accountability and quality rise as the procurement complexity grows. Combined with a need to cut costs, this becomes a significant challenge to overcome and get right. But get right all parties must.
In coming months as the impending public enquiry into the Grenfell Tower tragedy continues, more questions on how to improve the public procurement system will undoubtedly follow. Regardless of its outcome, more focus will be placed on the decisions that buyers make, transparency, and who is most qualified to set specifications.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but nonetheless, there are some important lessons our sector can take away from this tragedy. Steps must be taken to ensure buying decisions are not considered a risk factor in the future.
I am keen to find out how you, as Buyers, feel about the responsibilities you encounter on a day to day basis and how you deal with this pressure. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.