Supporting council suppliers

Protecting community supply chains has been vital to keeping local services running.

Local authorities have been rightly praised for the amazing work they’ve done for their residents during the pandemic – from coordinating food drops to the vulnerable to providing regular bin collections – all while others have been locked down.

But you might be surprised to know that they have also been doing their best to protect local businesses, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the local economy, all of which have been so devastatingly affected by the response to the COVID-19 restrictions.

Council procurement teams across the country have proactively been supporting and looking after our local supply base and doing their best to help SMEs and local businesses, which are the lifeblood of our local communities and economies.

They have been supported in this work by the National Advisory Group for Procurement (NAG), which embodies the LGA’s sector-led improvement ethos. Set up in 2011 and composed of local authority heads of procurement from across England and Wales, it represents the whole sector, with seats at the table for fire and rescue services and the professional buying organisations. It’s the eyes and ears of the sector, and shapes and informs the LGA’s procurement work programmes, guidance, training and support offer.

Drafted in by the Cabinet Office, NAG was at the centre of developing best-practice guidance on supplier relief at the start of the pandemic. Along with the LGA and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, its members provided the ‘boots on the ground’ intelligence on what local suppliers would need to survive during this crisis and how, practically, councils could support them.

Many suppliers to councils have struggled to meet their contractual obligations, putting their financial viability, ability to retain staff and, crucially, our local supply chains at risk.

As contracting authorities, councils are required to support suppliers at risk, so they are better able to cope with the current situation and to resume normal service delivery – and fulfil their contractual obligations – when the crisis is over.

Suppliers have been put on immediate payment terms to maintain cash flow and protect jobs, while many councils have sought out at-risk suppliers and continued to pay them throughout the crisis on a ‘continuity and retention’ basis.

There have also been innovative ideas for redeploying unrequired service capacity to other areas of need – for instance, school-meal providers supplying food for NHS and key workers, or school transport (taxis) being diverted to deliver food supplies and medication to the vulnerable.

Although the guidance does not apply to charities and the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, a lot of councils have taken the same approach to requests for relief from these organisations.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) remains the number one issue for councils striving to protect their care staff and other frontline workers. The shared intelligence and experiences of the group’s endeavours to source and procure equipment for their frontline staff has been crucial, as we continue to strengthen our body of evidence to lobby and influence central government on PPE.

Councils are going to be at the forefront of recovery, and having an effective and resilient supply chain is crucial. NAG will be at the centre of shaping and informing policy that enables councils to continue to support and protect our local suppliers, and deliver the services on which our residents and communities rely.

For more information on procurement, please visit www.local.gov.uk/our-support/efficiency-and-income-generation/procurement. The Government’s guidance on best practice for public sector procurement, including during the pandemic, is available at www.gov.uk/government/collections/procurement-policy-notes

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