Fire and Rescue Services across the country could save millions of pounds in taxpayers’ cash by improving the way in which they source and purchase fire-fighting equipment and clothing. That’s the verdict of the latest research published by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Research findings in the 82-page Fire and Rescue Procurement Aggregation and Collaboration document highlight examples of Fire Services buying identical kit at vastly different prices, with the report stating that, across the country, the 46 Fire and Rescue Services could save millions by streamlining processes and standardising ways in which they buy clothing and equipment.
Prices for the same kit can vary by as much as 200%. For example, a fire helmet can cost between £105 and £131 but even when the same contract is used there can still be a significant price range of 66%. A typical fire protection coat can cost anywhere between £220 and £366.
The report concludes that Fire and Rescue Authorities could achieve savings of no less than £18 million from a total spend of £127 million per annum. Indeed, those savings could be even greater if applied to all purchases made by all Fire Services. On a collective basis, the Fire and Rescue Services spend an estimated £600 million each year on buying equipment and fire engines.
Fire and Rescue Procurement Aggregation and Collaboration was funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and jointly commissioned with the Chief Fire Officers Association through PA Consulting to identify how Fire and Rescue Services currently procure, where there are opportunities to buy more efficiently and highlight a range of strategic options on how these opportunities may be taken forward.
Best value for taxpayers’ money
Speaking about the report, fire minister Penny Mordaunt MP said: “It cannot be right that the price of the same piece of kit or protective clothing varies so much for different Fire Services. This report clearly shows that the 46 Fire and Rescue Services must come together to maximise the buying power of the £600 million they spend and realise the best possible value for money for taxpayers.”
Mordaunt continued: “In the last decade, there has been a 46% reduction in call outs and incidents, while accidental deaths from fires in the home have reached an all-time low. However, expenditure and fire-fighter numbers have remained broadly the same. The case for change, then, is compelling. Taxpayers are right to expect the most cost-effective purchases so Fire and Rescue Authorities must seize this opportunity to make changes and drive better procurement.”
Fire and Rescue Procurement Aggregation and Collaboration recommends that Fire and Rescue Authorities seize the opportunity to deliver significant potential savings by:
*agreeing a common classification of goods and services for the 46 Fire and Rescue Authorities
*producing an index of prices paid on kit to avoid paying more for the same product
*securing internal sponsorship and partnership arrangements
*managing supplier relationships and contracts on a better basis
*developing a strategy for buying common non-fire goods and services together
*developing a national procurement pipeline plan that documents existing contract periods, future tendering exercises and large-scale procurement opportunities
The report determines it’s likely that standardisation of products will deliver even greater savings. Alongside greater volumes through collective procurement, this could add to the wider economies of scale. For example, if more Fire and Rescue Authorities bought the same vehicles then they would not only save on the vehicles themselves but also on the parts, maintenance and training.
Collaboration means the same procurement is not repeated time and time again in different services, in turn saving time as well as money. All of these findings make the case for collaborative procurement stronger than ever.
The Knight Review – Facing the Future
These findings follow last year’s report by former chief fire-fighter Sir Ken Knight which highlighted the scope for finding £200 million in savings while safeguarding emergency operations and protecting public safety.
The Knight Review revealed that huge variations exist between how the 46 different Fire and Rescue Authorities operate, with the cost per head of providing a service almost double in some areas to that of others.
Sir Ken identified that the 46 Fire and Rescue Authorities across England each had their own management structures, senior leaders and operational differences. Between 2008 and 2012, total reserves held by stand-alone Fire and Rescue Authorities increased from just over £200 million to more than £400 million. Ultimately, this highlights the potential for investing in spend-to-save type projects.