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WAO seeks procurement improvement

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Highlights risks of defective procurement: Huw Vaughan Thomas

IN 2015-16, public bodies in Wales spent around £6 billion through procurement on a range of goods, services and works but need to improve their performance to ensure value for money.

That’s the message of wide-ranging report from the Wales Audit Office (WAO), which suggests that the existing procurement process provides no more than mixed results.

In a changing landscape, public bodies face challenges in balancing potentially competing procurement priorities, responding to new policy, legislation and technology, and in the recruitment and retention of key personnel.

The Welsh Government’s 2015 policy statement sets out the overriding principles for public procurement, in the context of relevant EU and UK procurement legislation.

However, the WAO report has found that national governance arrangements could be strengthened, with the national procurement board currently having limited effectiveness.

Of the £6 billion spent through procurement in 2015-16, £880 million was through collaborative procurement managed by the three main Wales-based consortia and public buying organisations. While these organisations are reporting financial savings and other benefits, public bodies have mixed views on their effectiveness.

The report also highlights clear scope for improvement in procurement arrangements at a local level. Public bodies have experienced several notable procurement failures and our audit work continues to identify examples of other weaknesses.

New legislation – including the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 – presents new challenges and despite some investment by the Welsh Government, public bodies continue to have problems in recruiting and retaining qualified procurement personnel.

Developments in technology present opportunities to make procurement processes more efficient but are not yet being used consistently.

The report makes eight recommendations on issues including:

  • Membership of the national Procurement Board – the Welsh Government plans to merge this board with the National Procurement Service board.
  • Regular review by public bodies of their procurement strategies and polices to ensure that these stay up to date with the changing landscape.
  • The scope of any future Procurement Fitness Checks – the Welsh Government has been planning to roll out a new programme of checks.
  • For the Welsh Government to explore the impact of differential pay for procurement staff across different sectors and any potential solutions.

Auditor General, Huw Vaughan Thomas, said: “Procurement is one of the key ways in which public bodies need to be able to demonstrate that they are securing value for money. Our findings are clear: while public bodies face a range of challenges in a changing procurement landscape, they can do more to strengthen their procurement arrangements and recent examples highlight the financial and reputational risks of getting procurement wrong.”

The Chair of the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay AM, said: “The Committee has been concerned by recent examples of poor procurement practice and this report emphasises the significant amount of money spent each year by public bodies through their procurement activity.

“There are clearly opportunities to ensure better value for money, not just by avoiding obviously poor practice but also by maximising wider benefits from contracts where possible.

“Public bodies need to ensure that they have access to the commercial skills necessary to manage potentially complex procurement activity and it is concerning that, despite some investment by the Welsh Government, public bodies are still facing difficulties recruiting and retaining the skills they need.

“The Committee will be considering the findings in this report and in the separate report that the Auditor General is preparing about the National Procurement Service over the coming weeks.”

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Ben Lake MP urges UK Government to review calorie legislation

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JUST one week after the legislation to label restaurants with calorie labels came to force the Hearts Minds Genes Coalition for eating disorders, chaired by multi award winning campaigner Hope Virgo, have coordinated an open letter to the Government calling on the Government to: 

  • Make a commitment that the evaluation of the new legislation to label restaurants with calories on will happen in the first year with a commitment that members from the eating disorder community and experts will be involved in this review. 
  • To make it mandatory for every single restaurant that has to have mandatory calorie labelling will also have a no-calorie menu choice for those who wish to request this 
  • To remove the labelling of calories on children’s menus in all restaurants

The letter spotlights the problematic nature of adding calories to menus, highlighting not only the dangers for those affected by eating disorders but for the wider society. It goes on to emphasise that with 16% of the adult population screening positive for an eating disorder and millions more suffering from eating disorders, what is proposed as a “common-sense approach” – focusing on weight and calorie counting – is incredibly destructive. 

Ben Lake MP

Ben Lake MP says: “Mandating calorie labelling may have a detrimental impact on those living with, or who are at risk of developing eating disorders. The rates of both eating disorders and obesity are increasing across the UK and whilst we all want to have a population approach to making society healthier, none of us want unintended consequences for people on whose lives this issue has a profound impact.  

“I believe that the UK Government should take a holistic approach to tackling obesity. Action is needed to protect children from junk food marketing with restrictions on advertising, alongside the promotion of healthy  food choices in shops and supermarkets. More widely, I believe that the UK Government must reverse cuts to public health funding to ensure that community services can support people to live healthier lives.” 

Hope Virgo says: “I honestly still can’t quite believe that this has happened. For so many people affected by eating disorders restaurants will become an even more toxic and fearful place. It will normalise conversations around food and exercise. Over the pandemic we have seen a huge increase in eating disorders, with services completely overrun. Do we really want future generations to grow up basing their food decisions on numbers? Since the legislation came into force I have been inundated with messages from people who have so much fear not just for themselves but those around them.” 

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Boris Johnson, his wife and chancellor Rishi Sunak to be fined for breaking lockdown rules

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THE PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie, and chancellor Rishi Sunak, have been notified that they will be issued with fines for breaking lockdown rules.

The fixed penalty notices are the result of a Metropolitan Police investigation into parties in Downing Street and Whitehall in 2020 and 2021.

Mr Johnson will become the first sitting prime minister to receive a punishment for breaking the law.

Labour immediately called for both the PM and chancellor to resign while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called for parliament to be recalled for a vote of confidence in Mr Johnson.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon also demanded that they should quit.

Those calls have been echoed this week by Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds has called on the Welsh Conservative Leader Andrew RT Davies and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart to “show a backbone” and call for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to resign following the news that both men are to be fined over lockdown parties.

Commenting Jane Dodds MS told The Herald: “Boris Johnson & Rishi Sunak have broken the law & repeatedly lied, they must resign from their positions at once.

“While people in Wales were playing by the rules at great personal expense, those in charge thought they were above the law.

“This also will come as a painful blow to all those covid bereaved families in Wales.  The behavior of Johnson and Sunak

“The Welsh public deserves much better. For the sake of the country, both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak must resign immediately.

“If the Conservative Party is to have any legitimacy in Wales Andrew RT Davies and Simon Hart need to show some backbone and be calling for resignations immediately. No Welsh Conservative MP should be backing the Chancellor or Prime Minister staying in post.”

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Concessions to UK Elections Bill secured to ensure open and accessible elections in Wales

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COUNSEL GENERAL Mick Antoniw reaffirmed the Welsh Government’s commitment to open elections and increased voter participation, as the Senedd prepares to vote on the passage of the UK Government’s Elections Bill.

The UK Government’s Elections Bill proposes the introduction of mandatory photo ID, as well as measures relating to the administration and conduct of elections, overseas electors and UK citizens, and amendments to the role of the Electoral Commission.

The Welsh Government has secured concessions that mean large parts of the Bill will not apply to Senedd and local government elections in Wales. This includes removing a proposed provision that would have allowed the Secretary of State to direct the Electoral Commission in the discharge of its devolved functions in Wales.

In a Legislative Consent Motion, to be voted on in the Senedd on Tuesday, the Welsh Government is recommending consent is given in two specific areas only – digital imprints and an offence of voter intimidation.

Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, said: “The concessions we have secured to this Bill represent a success for devolution. The Welsh Government is committed to making elections as open and accessible as possible, and to do all in its power to increase participation.

“This is why 16 and 17 year olds and qualifying foreign citizens will be able to vote in local elections in Wales for the first time this May. We are also running pilot schemes in four local authorities designed to make it easier for people to vote at a time and a place that is convenient for them.

“The UK Government plans for voter ID risk making voting harder. Though the proposals won’t apply to devolved elections, they will apply to general elections in Wales and I’m concerned this will confuse voters. We have shared our concerns with the UK Government.”

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