Agenda item

Corporate Procurement Strategy

Minutes:

4.1  John Tizard gave a brief presentation to the committee.  Councillor Claire Maugham asked Mr Tizard for his view on the potential role of scrutiny in procurement and monitoring of contracts.  Mr Tizard suggested that in respect of major contracts the committee might expect the client officer, cabinet member and provider to appear before it and that this expectation could be built into contracts.  Before being let, a clear statement was needed about what the contract sought to achieve and the cabinet member and officers could be held to account for performance of the contract in relation to this.  If outsourcing was being considered in respect of a specific contract, the committee's role might be to question whether this was appropriate, whether it was the right approach and whether alternatives were being looked at.  The committee could also hold the relevant cabinet member to account in terms of their political objectives.

 

4.2  Councillor Claire Maugham said that, in her view, social value was important rather than simply focusing on the lowest price contract.  Mr Tizard commented that the Social Value Act was a good enabler and that the new European procurement regulations allowed for social factors to be taken into account.  A business and political case could be made for the economic benefits of the living wage.  Mr Tizard added that the GLA insisted on the living wage for their contracts.

 

4.3  Councillor Adele Morris wondered whether in other authorities there were separate committees to look at procurement and contract management.  Mr Tizard was not aware of any authorities with separate contract review committees.  He suggested that a relevant scrutiny committee could look at contracts relating to its service areas.  At the same time there might be an argument to set up a group of specialists.  He emphasised that the default position should be to hold such meetings in the public.  He also emphasised that the person with operational responsibility for the service should be asked to attend meetings.

 

4.4  Councillor Dan Garfield asked Mr Tizard whether he had any advice on specific services, like IT, where there were probably only a small number of companies that could operate on the scale required.  Mr Tizard commented that some major IT companies claimed to want to deliver social value.  He also wondered whether this was an issue to share with other authorities, giving bigger buying power, or one where it was important at the least to be aware of what other London boroughs were doing.  It was worth asking the question of whether a range of business processes could be put around IT as part of a contract.

 

4.5  Councillor Tom Flynn explained that the housing & community safety scrutiny sub-committee was looking at the housing repairs contract and that it was not easy to scrutinise a contract which included a great deal of subcontracting.  In Mr Tizard's view, those companies that were serious about working in the public sector market would adapt to its demands in terms of contract management.  Requirements for ongoing scrutiny of performance needed to be set out in the original contract.  Protocols and audit rights in respect of financial data should be agreed in advance.

 

4.6  Councillor Jasmine Ali asked what could be done with the council’s existing contracts.  She also asked Mr Tizard's view on the council’s drive towards apprenticeships.  Mr Tizard responded that apprenticeships could be made a condition in a contract but that the council would have to recognise the possible additional costs involved.  In terms of existing contracts, he saw no reason why scrutiny could not ask questions of officers and cabinet members in respect of performance against SLAs and how often these were reviewed and changed.  It should also be possible to directly question providers.

 

4.7  The chair, Councillor Gavin Edwards, asked Mr Tizard if he would be surprised that Southwark often had Gateway One reports, setting out procurement strategies, submitted to cabinet which were all ready fully formed reports and essentially the decision to procure already made.  It was difficult to halt an already ongoing process.  Mr Tizard felt that this was very common in local authorities.  There needed to be consultation on the original decision, not necessarily with the aim of changing it, but it was likely that questions could be asked to achieve a better specification and procurement.  Cabinet members and officers should be encouraged to be more open and transparent about the procurement process.  The chair wondered if a possible way of addressing this was for large service level contracts to be subject to a "Gateway zero" report and for that report to come to a scrutiny committee before going to cabinet.  Mr Tizard added that it was important to talk to service users, staff, unions and the voluntary sector, amongst others, so that this was not just an internal process.