Chatham House reports on study of local authorities
By Duncan Brack, Associate Fellow, Energy, Environment & Development Programme, Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs)
Chatham House has recently published an analysis of UK local government approaches to timber procurement, based on case studies of local councils in Yorkshire & Humberside and North East England.
Local government as a whole is estimated to account for approximately 3–4% of the total UK market for timber and wood products, mainly in timber for construction, furniture for offices and parks, and paper. Central government procurement policy does not apply to local authorities, and is not clear exactly what they are doing in this area.
The Chatham House study therefore selected twelve councils in two government regions for analysis; the twelve comprised all those who had responded positively to a letter from Michael Meacher, the environment minister, in 2002, plus others who had showed some signs of interest in the issue. The study, however, revealed that even amongst this group of councils, who could be expected to be the most advanced of the fifty or so in the two regions, only two had a full timber procurement policy, and another four a partial policy, covering some products or some departments, or in the process of development. Only one council was likely to model its policy explicitly on central government’s.
The report explored options for central government to follow in encouraging local authorities to adopt timber procurement policies, and DEFRA is currently considering these. A wide range of options is available, including establishing appropriate rewards and incentives (e.g. including a category in councils’ performance criteria, financial rewards, or initiatives such as the ‘Beacon Council’ scheme, and including the use of sustainable building material in building standards for schools and houses); offering advice and assistance, through CPET and other networks; and improving education and awareness-raising.
Although the overall picture is not particularly encouraging, the case studies showed a broad interest in sustainable procurement in general, and timber procurement in particular, helped by the growing importance of tackling climate change. There is undoubtedly much interest amongst council officers in improving their approach.
The full report is available for download here