New research to put COVID-19 local authority spending in the spotlight

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Five stacks of silver coins with the word COVID positioned in white blocks on top of the stacks

The University of Stirling is launching major new research to investigate how local authority spending across the UK can deliver maximum benefit to communities in the wake of COVID-19.

Led by Dr Richard Simmons and facilitated by the Centre for Partnering, the project ‘Optimising Procurement Outcomes for COVID-19 and Beyond: Lessons from the Crisis’ involves academics from Oxford, Northumbria and Cardiff Universities. It is funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19.

Local authorities spend around £100bn or 47% of their total budget annually on procurement - crucially important resources to mobilise in the Covid-19 crisis. The study will look at how procurement can deliver the biggest benefit for residents, whether for public health, social care, or as a key economic lever to restart the local economy. Capturing these lessons takes on even greater significance now that the supply-chain implications of the Brexit deal are becoming clearer and new policy directions for procurement are being explored in a Cabinet Office Green Paper.

Principal Investigator, Dr Simmons, said: "This is an exciting opportunity to hear some of the hidden stories from the frontline of the Covid-19 response. Local authorities are at the heart of their communities' safety, wellbeing and resilience, and we want to help them get as much as they can from the resources they have available.

“This is a real chance to make a difference - we have a great team and we are looking forward to the challenge."

With extensive involvement and support from key stakeholders, the team will use surveys, interviews, webinars and a range of more detailed mini-investigations. They will seek to find out what is working well, less well, why, and with what effects and implications, and encourage reflection on the ability of the 'procurement ecosystem' to respond in a crisis.

The research team will also examine emerging opportunities to maximise the impact of, and leverage additional value from local authority procurement.

Clare FitzGerald, Research Fellow, University of Oxford, said: “Deepening our understanding of how networks of actors respond individually and collectively to a crisis is integral to improving how we prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of Covid-19 and beyond. To credibly investigate ongoing efforts in communities, regions, and in Whitehall is such a unique and important mechanism for documenting and sharing learning about what is or is not working and why.”