Building on success: Adding value to Essex Fire Authority
Building on success: Adding value to Essex Fire Authority

Over the past few years a number of reviews have been carried out of the support functions of the Essex Fire Authority with a view to ensuring that they provide appropriate, cost effective and efficient service for the Authority and contribute effectively to the main strategic aims. The approach adopted for the Procurement function was to use an established process developed by us and applied across a number of authorities in the region, the “Procurement Challenge”, which is now delivered through our Talent Bank.

The challenge consisted of three phases, i) an assessment of procurement and expenditure data, ii) a workshop with all the key department heads with significant procurement responsibilities and iii) individual interviews with a range of internal stakeholders.

This ultimately resulted in an outcomes report containing a series of recommendations for future improvement.

The outcomes report assessed current practice on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 = best practice) and showed where the Authority is in comparison with a “typical” district/borough council of broadly comparable size. The scores showed that the Authority is already in a strong position in comparison to many other Authorities.

However, it emerged very clearly that the present arrangements for devolved procurement needed to be coupled with a greater exchange of information and more functional and professional support to ensure that the delivery of procurement activities across the whole of the authority supported both the corporate strategy and delivered cashable savings.

The report provided 15 recommendations covering actions such as the role of designated Procurement staff, the quality of data and the identification of priority categories for savings. These findings have been discussed with departmental heads and an agreed response to the recommendations has been developed to drive future activity forward.

A working group, chaired by the Finance Director & Treasurer that includes representation from Procurement and Departmental Heads has been put in place to monitor progress in the delivery of changes within the organisation with oversight from the Strategic Management Board. As an example of immediate progress, the availability of more detailed data on supplier spend and invoice values by department have already promoted the expanded use of Government Procurement Cards for lower value transactions and one-off suppliers.

The Working Group is confident of successfully delivering cashable savings for the organisation through the implementation of the report’s recommendations.

Eddie Gibson, Senior Manager, was pleased that the Procurement Challenge was able to transfer successfully across to a new type of public sector organisation.

“As the Procurement Challenge process was developed specifically for local authorities, it was an interesting exercise for us to apply it to a stand-alone fire authority such as Essex. It was reassuring that the process held up very well, thanks in no small part to the support of the colleagues involved at the Authority. More importantly, it has helped to deliver real and sustainable improvement in the Authority’s procurement practices and it has already saved them money”

"The Fire Authority was pleased to have independent confirmation of the strengths of its procurement function and a clear focus on where we can make further improvements. "

Mike Clayton - Finance Director and Treasurer - Essex Fire Authority