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Defra / Government Buying Standards / Sustainability / a quicker system

Comment 25th August 2010

The current rules on sustainability & purchasing come from DEFRA as part of Government Buying Standards, which are a long academic pre-amble to a very short & useless list of suppliers called Buyingsolutions.gov.uk. I suggest a tweak to the pre-amble and then a way of expanding the list. A longer list of suppliers the shorter the buyers' jobs. At the moment they have to read a great long pre-amble and then find only about one firm per industry on the list. I guess the preamble is wasted because a buyer would think:

"Dell for computers, BMW for vehicles, Microsoft for software: they'll know the rules".

The tweak is just to mention the sustainability of UK manufacturing.

Then I suggest that certain UK manufacturing industries are chosen which could do with some understanding, but not subsidy, from government because they have been forced to work in a very lean low-admin way over the past decades.

This is how to expand the list and so make buyers' jobs easier

When buying in each industry, buyers should be required to look for every last supplier and write to each about future contracts asking for advice about whether the contracts could be changed to sustain UK manufacturers. A specialist business link team could be set-up to advise the industry on how to get onto government tender lists and advice government buyers on how to find suppliers. More generally, there might be something to be done about getting enthusiasts and people with a background in the industry to do the buying. An example:

  • LDV Vans is not in a position to change its model range but the receiver is in a position to read a draft tender and write back saying

    "change that bit and we could put in a bid and open-up a production line if we got it".
     

  • The department for business is in a position to fund or run a vehicle-making business link office
     
  • Some public sector organisations could be in a position to hire enthusiast staff to make purchasing decisions about a particular industry. Police ambulence & fire services near LDV vans have more work if there is more unemployment & social exclusion, so it's in their interest to use an enthusiast who can see ways of making local employment by buying local vans.

These are the current regulations on sustainable purchasing which are all pre-amble.

Government Buying Standards (formerly known as Buy Sustainable Quick Wins) are designed to make it easier for government buyers to buy sustainably. They include:

Why does this matter?

example: fire bikes

A few weeks ago Merseyside Fire and Rescue procured some fire bikes for a trial after a lot of work with a supplier. It's a design job more than a cheap labour job – they cost over £80,000 per bike according to the BBC. The longer term contract is still open. Maybe someone reading this can change the way it is carried-out to involve the bike suppliers on this list. (I am not connected with anyone on the list).

A recent freedom of information request to Merseyside Fire and Rescue reveals that their standing orders on purchasing are public, although the answer doesn't say where! All three requests on their page are about tracking down tender information. Their answer about fire bikes

ce buying group who's web site says that it is exempt from the need to advertise tenders. This is weird. It also states that their supplier for these  specialist bikes didn't think to give them a choice of who made the standard parts. It was BMW or BMW. And the fire brigade decline to comment on whether they contacted UK bike suppliers. The answer is a helpful one, volunteering information about general-purpose bikes as well as the odd ones with fire hoses on the back. It doesn't give much detail

Historical bit (skip if bored)

A few years ago when the rules were written, more of us thought that all manufacturing would move to China and we'd soon all work in financial services, the arts & intellectual property.

Many more of us didn't think of an opinon, but just saw manufacturing decline and thought it was OKl that all the police and fire brigade bikes seemed to come from BMW. Somebody somewhere is probably reading this and thinking

"I've looked at this list of bike makers but they're all daftly small with no managers: maybe BMW got big and the smallest UK firm on the list stayed small because BMW were better and the smallest firm was worse.  £80,000 on a BMW fire bike well spent I think.".

At the same time, for thirty years from about 1979 it was thought that to contain inflation, interest rates and exchange rates often to be hiked-up to encourage cheap imports keeping prices down. This is a bit irritating if you are a manufacturer competing more directly with cheap imports than, say, politicians. Mr Deng does not come-in from China and say "I can be a cheaper politician than you because of fiddled exchange rates", but it is often politicians and civil servants who claim to have serious opinions on the subject.

This is the official line as the bank of england puts it

A […] rise in the rate of interest in the UK relative to overseas would give investors a higher return on UK assets relative to their foreign-currency equivalents, tending to make sterling assets more attractive. That should raise the value of sterling, reduce the price of imports, and reduce demand for UK goods and services abroad.

During the 30 years of this policy,  government's complex buying rules developed. Police forces have clubbed together to buy vehicles. Defra has written government buying standards on sustainability. It's been acknowledged that small firms should be welcome on government supply lists but they still have to do the work of filling in pre-qualitifcation questionarres to get on the list.

Meanwhile, surviving manufacturers work in a different world, often without admin staff. They can only concentrate on one thing and that is their main jobs. I would say that they shouldn't be asked to jump through hoops to get government contracts, but they are stunt bike manufacturers so maybe that is a bad metaphor.

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