26 March 2013
Full report: Police procurement
Although the 43 police forces in England and Wales and the Home Office are making savings in the procurement of goods and services for the forces and are implementing initiatives to improve value for money, many opportunities remain unexploited. Police forces procure a wide range of goods and services, from uniforms and police vehicles to estate and facilities management services such as cleaning, spending some £1.7 billion in 2010-11.
The Department oversees the police service, and central government provides most of its funding, but individual forces have traditionally bought many goods and services independently. With central government funding being reduced by some £2 billion in real terms over the spending review period, however, the Home Office has taken a role in providing leadership and support to help forces improve their procurement and make savings. Many forces are now working with others to improve their buying power and make administrative savings, but most collaborations involve few forces and nearly half of all forces still have independent procurement teams.
Some forces have set up regional or national approaches to purchase common goods and services which many other forces take advantage of. However, common specifications for many types of goods and services do not exist, which reduces scope for collaborative buying. The NAO found at least nine separate specifications for each of five common types of equipment used by police officers, such as boots, body armour and high-visibility jackets. The NAO estimates forces could save up to a third of their costs in such areas, for example by agreeing a common specification for a uniform, such as that agreed by the Prison Service.
The Home Office’s efforts so far have been hampered by the lack of timely, accurate and detailed data, with national level data collection enjoying limited success and expenditure data up to two years out of date. This makes it difficult for it to target its interventions. Forces also reported mixed views about the support the Department provides. It has set up frameworks for body armour and vehicles which forces are legally compelled to use, and forces are on the whole positive about these, but it has been slow to build on this despite support from two-thirds of forces for further mandatory frameworks.
There are also tensions between the Department’s strategy to increase procurement at a national level, and its reforms to increase local accountability, such as the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners. The Department, forces and Commissioners will need to work together more effectively to identify and deliver further savings, particularly given the need to minimize the impact that cost reductions have on frontline policing.
“Faced with the pressure to make substantial savings, it makes sense for police forces to examine the scope for cutting the cost of buying goods and services. What is clear is that many opportunities for savings remain unexploited.
“Agreement between forces on collaborative ways of buying and common specifications for equipment can deliver better value for money – but implementing this is a challenge where forces are used to doing their own thing.
“The Home Office will need to think how best to manage the risks implicit in operating a light-touch oversight regime. In particular it needs better understanding of police procurement activity and to be clearer about how it will enforce its directives when necessary.”
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 26 March 2013
Notes for Editors
police forces in England and Wales
number of forces with joint procurement functions working across nine separate force collaborations
spend by all police forces in England and Wales on non-ICT goods and services, 2010-11
||real-terms reduction in central government funding for the police service, 2010-11 to 2014-15
||savings planned by forces from better procurement of all goods and services by 2014-15
||savings on non-ICT goods and services in 2011-12 claimed by 27 police forces and two organisations, the National Policing Improvement Agency and the Collaborative Police Procurement Programme
||police force spending through the national police procurement hub, as at February 2013
||full-time equivalent procurement staff in the 42 police forces that gave us comparable data, at January 2013
|68 per cent
||procurement staff in police forces that have professional procurement qualifications, at January 2013
- Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
- The National Audit Office scrutinizes public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Amyas Morse, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 860 staff. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services, and our work led to audited savings of more than £1 billion in 2011.