Environmental Audit Committee

1 September 2005 NEW INQUIRY

1 September 2005 NEW INQUIRY


Following the publication today of the National Audit Office's review, "Sustainable Procurement in Central Government", the Environmental Audit Committee is launching a brief inquiry into sustainable procurement. This follows on from its predecessor Committee's short report, " Sustainable Public Procurement", published in April 2005.

In that Report, the Environmental Audit Committee called for:

"improved leadership within Government on this matter; clear progress in creating a dedicated website for sustainable public procurement; an increased willingness within the OGC to take on this agenda and move it forward; and progress towards setting clear and measurable targets for sustainable procurement within central and local Government, backed by strong policy decisions aimed at achieving them."

In its review, the NAO finds that most government departments have high level processes to promote sustainable procurement, but that some data on sustainable procurement in the Sustainable Development in Government (2004) report presents a misleading impression of the level of sustainable procurement so far achieved within government. It goes on to state that:

"At an operational level […] there was often a gap between high level commitment and operational practice. More work is needed to ensure that sustainability is integrated into departmental procurement processes: departments are not prioritising the provision of training on sustainable procurement; few departments are undertaking environmental risk assessments of procurement activity; and departments' approaches to monitoring and evaluation of sustainable procurement activity could be more comprehensive."

The Committee is very grateful to the NAO for the review which casts valuable light upon a vital but often overlooked area of government activity. Of particular interest is the NAO's finding that members of departmental procurement teams, consulted as part of the review, perceived one of "the main barriers to sustainable procurement.. [to be]...a conflict between sustainable procurement and the focus on reducing costs".  The impact of Gershon on sustainable procurement was one of the main points picked up in the previous EAC's pre-Election inquiry. 

In view of the above, and mindful of the ongoing work of the Sustainable Procurement Task Force which is due to produce an Action Plan for sustainable procurement by April 2006, the Committee is seeking  submissions from interested parties.

The Committee invites organisations and members of the public to submit memoranda setting out their views on this inquiry. Some specific issues on which the Committee would welcome comments are set out below, though respondents are free to comment on any issues which they consider relevant:

  • Is setting targets for sustainable public procurement enough? Should there be more stringent requirements on departments with regard to how they carry out sustainable procurement activities and how they are reported?

  • How best can the performance of departments and local authorities be measured with the aim of allowing proper comparisons between them? How can the SDiG questionnaire be improved to provide more meaningful results?

  • Should there be improved guidance for departments on how to improve procurement practice, including risk assessment? If so, who should be responsible for providing it?

  • Where are the examples of best practice within the public and private sector from which government departments can learn?

  • Are the various work streams identified by the Sustainable Procurement Task Force adequate? What do the key components of the Action Plan need to be in order to ensure that its recommendations have maximum impact?

The Committee expects to take oral evidence on this inquiry in November 2005.  Written evidence should be sent to the Committee by Thursday 20 October 2005, preferably by e-mail to eacom@parliament.uk  (it is important we are also sent a hard copy by post). A brief guidance note on the preparation and submission of evidence is available on the Committee's web pages.  For further information on the Committee's inquiry, please telephone Elena Ares on 020-7219-4102

Notes for Editors

1.Details of all the Committee's press releases and inquiries, together with its Reports, oral evidence and other publications, are available on the Committee's Internet home page, which can be found at: www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/environmental_audit_committee.cfm

2.The NAO review can be found at: www.nao.org.uk. Anyone wanting further information about the NAO review should contact Mark Strathdene at the NAO on 020-7798-7183.

The Environmental Audit Committee

Under the terms of the Standing Order No. 152A the Environmental Audit Committee is to "consider to what extent the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development: to audit their performance against such targets as may be set for them by Her Majesty's Ministers; and to report thereon to the House."  The Committee was set up on 13 July 2005.