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Highlands and Islands Greens
Highlands and Islands Greens

Green Debate: Inefficient Use of Public Money is Cheating the Taxpayer

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

The successful Food For Life scheme which gives pupils in Strathpeffer Primary School fresh, healthy meals would become the norm rather than the exception if Greens’ proposals to improve how public money is spent are adopted.

Green Highlands & Islands MSP Eleanor Scott will argue in a parliamentary debate today that Scottish taxpayers’ money is not being spent in the most efficient and effective way, meaning social, economic and environmental gains are being missed. (1)

Each year, Scottish local authorities spend a total of £2·3 billion on procurement but current practices are failing to deliver best value for money because social and environmental criteria are not sufficiently taken into account in the tendering process.

Green procurement by local authorities has direct social and environmental gains, helping deliver best value for money.  However, the Executive has failed to issue any Scotland specific guidance on EU legislation which specifies that social and environmental criteria can be taken into account in the tendering process.

Greens are now calling on the Executive to make such criteria mandatory in all public contracts, and to issue guidance to all local authorities and public bodies to help them meet these requirements.  The move would ensure taxpayers money is used to maximum benefit, with substantial long-term gains such as lifting low income households out of fuel poverty and ensuring children receive healthy school meals.

Dr Scott said, “Green procurement means taxpayers cash is used to maximum benefit – to promote fair working practices, protect the environment and create a low-carbon, sustainable economy, an urgent necessity if we are to tackle climate change.

“We have seen the success of Food For Life at Strathpeffer, and we have seen in Oban how the award-winning West Highland Housing Association has used public money to lead pioneering work in biomass district heating systems, in particular its Glenshellach development of 90 homes.  This truly joined-up thinking means public cash is used to tackle fuel poverty and ill-health, while strengthening local economies and reducing climate change pollution.

“Yet for all the talk about efficient public spending, the Executive is failing to encourage local authorities to get the most for their money in ALL cases.  There are opportunities to create secure, sustainable jobs, kick-start potentially lucrative industries such as renewables technologies, and tackle social problems such as fuel poverty and ill-health.  Ministers need to use their common sense to enable councils to think big.”

Highlands & Islands examples include:

  • Stathpeffer Primary School has signed up to the Food For Life scheme which sets aspirational targets for using fresh, unprocessed, local ingredients.  Research on Food For Life in East Ayrshire has shown that it leads to an increase in uptake, that children think the food tastes better, and parents feel that the local foods in primary schools scheme is a good use of their Council’s money. (2)
  • Several local authorities have entered into agreements to procure green energy, including Argyll & Bute and Orkney, who purchase 100% ‘green’ energy.
  • Argyll & Bute’s Community Plan and Energy Strategy “Our Energy Future” makes strong commitment to renewable energy and aims to develop Islay as the first “green island” through developing hydrogen power and biomass generation.
  • Highland Council is piloting a range of alternative heating and power option for Council tenants in two existing housing schemes (biofuel and microwave wind turbines, domestic CHP, air-source heat pump, solar water heating).  Plans to extend scheme across other Highland areas, and integrate renewable into their Fuel Poverty Strategy.

Notes

1. Motion for debate, Thursday 1 February, 9·15 to 10·30am:

Notes the transposition in January 2006 of the European Public Procurement Directive 2004/18/EEC into Scots Law, and in particular the clarification that public bodies may legitimately specify social and environmental criteria in their procurement contracts; welcomes the publication by the European Commission of Buying Green!, a handbook on environmental public procurement, but regrets that Scottish specific guidance is not currently available; and calls upon the Scottish Executive to make social and environmental criteria mandatory in all public contracts, and to issue guidance to all local authorities and public bodies to enable them to meet these requirements.

2. www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2006/07/27135746/1

Further findings include:

  • Catering managers felt that the quality of ingredients supplied and the service from suppliers was almost universally high.
  • School staff felt that the ‘localness’ and freshness of produce is driving the better quality of product and service that they are experiencing and creating beneficial links between School, Community and Environment.
  • Parents feel that the local foods in primary schools scheme is a good use of their Council’s money; a clear majority think that this is the case.
  • Most children in the 11 primary schools in the local foods scheme agree that school meals taste better now than before the pilot scheme was introduced.
  • The majority of parents and children agree that school dinners are healthier, and that ingredients for school dinners should be sourced locally.