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The Prison Service has made significant progress in the way it manages its buying of goods and services such as food, clothing and utilities, the National Audit Office has today reported.

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In 2003 the National Audit Office found that the Prison Service’s procurement function was “fragmented and costly to deliver”. Since this report, the Prison Service has implemented a new procurement strategy, led by a new centralised professional procurement team backed up by regional purchasing units which negotiate central contracts for a range of goods and services.

At the same time the Prison Service has introduced a shared service centre to provide administrative functions, including purchasing, for prisons. The implementation of these two reforms has enabled the Prison Service to make significant savings in both purchasing and administrative costs.

As a result of the changes, prisons now receive more consistent supplies of goods and services often at much lower prices than before. The progress the Prison Service has been recognised by the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply with two awards for excellence in 2006 and 2007.

The Prison Service is still capable of making further savings. In the near term it should concentrate its efforts on bringing more expenditure under the remit of its nationally negotiated contracts, and help to improve compliance by prisons with the new arrangements by further communicating the benefits of its national procurement approach.

“The Prison Service has made real progress in how it buys goods and services for prisons throughout the UK. The Service spends around £450 million a year and is securing a good deal for the taxpayer in using that money. It could do still better by extending the new approach to the whole of the organisation.”

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office


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