Coming of age for Integrated Clothing Project: Although debate has quietened of late, the Integrated Clothing Project has loomed large over the Fire and Rescue Service for several years. Bristol Uniforms' Richard Storey provides the preferred bidder's perspective on the process and gives an update on the current state of the project.(Operational Assurance)

GIVEN THE COMPLEXITY OF BRINGING supplier 'best value' to any organisation, the task set by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (OPDM and now DCLG) back in September 2004 under the National Procurement Strategy (NPS) for the Fire and Rescue Service was always destined to be a difficult one.

Under the central procurement organisation, Firebuy (designated a Non Departmental Public Body and set up in April 2006), the work of bringing to fruition a 'best value' arrangement for all the PPE and clothing requirements of 47 fire and rescue authorities (FRAs) in England has been the task of the Integrated Clothing Project (ICP). Personal protective equipment and clothing is one of three areas covered by the NPS which also includes vehicles and emergency response equipment, and major projects.

Firebuy's stated objective was, and remains: 'To enable savings to be made by negotiating better deals for buying in bulk and eliminate the duplication of procurement exercises in the English fire and rescue authorities. So rather than all 47 FRAs negotiating separately for service specific items such as vehicles, protective clothing and respiratory equipment, Firebuy negotiates contracts on behalf of FRAs and takes the lead in subsequent contract and service level monitoring'.

More specifically, the aims of Firebuy are to achieve:

* Strategic coordination of procurement to support the key aims and objectives of the Fire and Rescue Service

* Standardisation of output specifications

* Coordination of FRS technical services

* Market development to ensure suppliers provide the equipment and services that meet the needs of the FRS

* Active management of the supply base

* Efficiency gains and quality improvement.

Its aim is also to create a national identity that addresses equality and diversity issues and to deliver a standard level of appropriate protection for firefighters nationally.

The rationale for government intervention stated that: 'Without a strategy, duplication of costs and efforts for procurement will continue to occur and there will be little opportunity for interoperability between fire and rescue services. Operational requirements for New Dimensions are unlikely to be fully effective without the enhanced capacity for cross-border working that procurement to common standards would deliver. Without effective procurement strategies fire and rescue authorities will not achieve best value and are unable to leverage the gains that can accrue through aggregation of demand'. …

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