The need for South East Councils to change their focus

procurementThe following is my column in todays Argus newspaper:

In the light of the results of the local elections that took place on 2nd May, virtually every Council in our region which I view as being Sussex, Surrey and Kent will need to change their approach to their communities. Clearly one of the main themes behind the results was due to Brexit with a dramatic loss of confidence in the Conservative Party and an almost complete destruction of the UKIP Council membership transferring votes to the Green Party, Liberal Democrats and to a much lesser extent Labour. In the days that followed it has become deeply concerning to hear Brexit supporting Tories making statements that ignore this direction of travel and indeed claim that these changes provide an argument for strengthening our departure from the EU, rather than considering what people now want as we approach the third anniversary of the referendum. A number have spoken on radio programmes claiming that they no longer support their own party as we approach the European Elections. Whatever is going on inside the minds of these people it is clearly vital that in the majority of Councils that have experienced a meaningful shift towards Green and Liberal Democrat involvement that the Councillors react to the election results. One strong theme for them to adopt is one that even David Cameron promoted, albeit rather superficially when he was leader of their party. The need for our Councils to play a significant role in reducing our regions environmental impact is clear and it would be one clear way of reacting to the votes that took place. Clearly this needs to go much deeper than a superficial response but could begin with a serious review of Council policies, something that will be supported by many of the voters and would potentially allow each Council and potentially the whole of our region to set out a positive response to all the voters.

Another theme emerged at the same time as many of us were voting and whilst it probably did not impact any manifestos it would be another way for Councils to seek to reduce their environmental footprint and to improve local economies. This is very relevant as we contemplate the possibility of some form of departure from the EU. This theme relates to public procurement and was raised by a report published at the beginning of May by an organisation called Public. They are a Tech based think tank and the report is called “Buying into the Future” which analyses how the Government is procuring IT contracts measuring what size companies are winning the contracts and much more importantly which ones are being allowed to bid for the contracts. This is something that has a bearing on our region and especially here in Brighton and Hove and in other Sussex Districts such as Chichester and Wealden where IT startups exist in significant numbers and where most of our businesses right across the region are SME’s. Across hundreds of public sector IT contracts awarded from 2015 -18 about 92% of the total spend went to large companies. For example based on 233 MoJ contracts, only 83 were considered suitable to SMEs and whilst that is a quarter of these tenders, they were only worth a cumulative £101m, out of a total of £1.57bn, so represent 6%.

Whilst the Public report was specifically focusing on IT, similar examples exist in areas such as construction where the Government has commissioned a small number of large building firms to rebuild Schools across our nation. These large building firms are based outside of our region even though there are several local building companies that are potentially capable of the work but were excluded from the tenders because of their size. Beyond this the building companies subcontract elements to other businesses many of which also based outside of our region and so most of the work and any profits will be lost from our region and the companies will transport people into the area with a negative impact on our environment. If the 41 Councils including the County Councils in Kent, Sussex and Surrey along with all 44 MPs were to call on the Government to demand a major improvement towards SMEs on contracts such as those covered in the Public report and the building contracts awarded by the Government the impact on our region could be very helpful as a way of strengthening local businesses, improving incomes for local workers and reducing the environmental impact. Of course these Councils would need to adopt the same approach themselves before banging a drum in front of the Government but that would be a very good place for them to start!

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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