The Auditor‑General for New South Wales, Margaret Crawford, released a report today examining procurement management in Local Government.
The audit assessed the effectiveness of procurement management practices in six councils. All six councils had procurement management policies that were consistent with legislative requirements, but the audit found compliance gaps in some councils. The audit also identified opportunities for councils to address risks to transparency and accountability, and to ensure value for money is achieved when undertaking procurement.
The Auditor‑General recommended that the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment review the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 and publish updated and more comprehensive guidance on procurement management for the Local Government sector. The report also generated insights for the Local Government sector on opportunities to strengthen procurement practices.
Effective procurement is important in ensuring councils achieve their objectives, demonstrate value for money and deliver benefits to the community when purchasing goods and services. Procurement also comes with risks and challenges in ensuring the purchased goods and services deliver to expectations. The risks of fraud and conflicts of interest also need to be mitigated.
The legislative requirements related to procurement in the Local Government sector are focused on sourcing and assessing tender offers. These requirements are included in the Local Government Act 1993 (the Act), the Local Government Amendment Act 2019 (the Amendment), the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 (the Regulation), the Tendering Guidelines for NSW Local Government 2009 (the Tendering Guidelines), the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (the GIPA Act) and the State Records Act 1998.
General requirements and guidance relevant to councils are also available in the Model Code of Conduct for Local Councils in NSW 2018 (the Model Code), the NSW Government Procurement Policy Framework 2019 and in publications by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).1
Individual councils have developed their own procurement policies and procedures to expand on the legislative requirements. Understandably, these vary to reflect each council’s location, size and procurement needs. Nevertheless, the general principles of effective procurement management (such as transparency and accountability) and risk-mitigating practices (such as segregation of duties and the provision of training) are relevant to all councils.
The Audit Office of New South Wales Report on Local Government 2018 provided a sector-wide summary of aspects of procurement management in Local Government (see Section 2.1 of this report). This audit builds on this state-wide view by examining in detail the effectiveness of procurement management practices in six councils. This report also provides insights on opportunities to strengthen procurement management in the sector.
The selected councils for this audit were Cumberland City Council, Georges River Council, Lockhart Shire Council, Tweed Shire Council, Waverley Council and Wollongong City Council. They were selected to provide a mix of councils of different geographical classifications, sizes, priorities and levels of resourcing.
All six councils had procurement management policies and procedures that were consistent with the legislative requirements for sourcing and assessing tender offers. Their policies and procedures also extended beyond the legislative requirements to cover key aspects of procurement, from planning to completion. In terms of how these policies were applied in practice, the six councils were mostly compliant with legislative requirements and their own policies and procedures, but we found some gaps in compliance in some councils and made specific recommendations on closing these gaps.
There were also opportunities for councils to improve procurement management to mitigate risks to transparency, accountability and value for money. Common gaps in the councils’ procurement management approaches included not requiring procurement needs to be documented at the planning stage, not providing adequate staff training on procurement, not requiring procurement outcomes to be evaluated, and having discrepancies in contract values between contract registers and annual reports. These gaps expose risks to councils’ ability to demonstrate their procurements are justified, well managed, delivering to expectations, and achieving value for money. Chapter three of this report provides insights for the audited councils and the Local Government sector on ways to address these risks
- By June 2022, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment should:
- publish comprehensive and updated guidance on effective procurement practices – including electronic tender submissions and procurements below the tender threshold
- review and update the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 to reflect the increasing use of electronic tender submissions rather than paper copies.
- By December 2021, the six audited councils should consider the opportunities to improve procurement management in line with the improvement areas outlined in chapter three of this report.
- Cumberland City Council should immediately:
- ensure contract values are consistent between the contract register and the annual report
- introduce procedures to ensure supplier performance reviews are conducted as per the council’s policy
- Georges River Council should immediately:
- ensure contract values are consistent between the contract register and the annual report
- introduce procedures to ensure all the steps up to the awarding of a contract are documented as per the council’s policy
- introduce procedures to ensure outcome evaluations are conducted as per the council’s policy.
- Lockhart Shire Council should immediately:
- include additional information in the council’s contract register to ensure compliance with Section 29(b), (f), (g), (h) and (i) of the GIPA Act
- ensure contract values are consistent between the contract register and the annual report.
- Waverley Council should immediately ensure contracts are disclosed in the annual report as per Section 217(1)(a2) of the Regulation.
Like any government entity, councils use a range of procurement approaches to buy the goods and services they need to fulfil their key functions. Effective procurement is important in ensuring councils achieve their objectives, secure value for money and deliver intended benefits to the community.
Procurement also comes with risks, such as the potential for waste, fraud and conflicts of interest. In a series of publications on ‘Corruption Risks in NSW Government Procurement’ (2011), the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) identified procurement as a major risk area for corruption and reported that around 30 per cent of its public inquiries made findings of corrupt conduct related to government procurement activities. A related ICAC survey also found that two-fifths of suppliers to state and local governments perceived corruption in public sector procurement to be at least a ‘moderate problem’. Since 2012, the ICAC has published over ten investigations related to corruption risks arising from procurement activities.
As a broad process, procurement involves planning (identifying business needs and analysing the market), sourcing (tendering and negotiating contracts) and managing (contract management and evaluating outcomes). Existing legislation and guidelines provide baseline requirements that councils can build upon to address each of these elements in response to their specific needs and circumstances. Detailed guidance specifically for councils only addresses the sourcing stage of procurement.
In assessing compliance with the law, this audit had regard to the Local Government Act 1993 (the Act), the Local Government Amendment Act 2019 (the Amendment), the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 (the Regulation), the Tendering Guidelines for NSW Local Government 2009 (the Tendering Guidelines), the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (the GIPA Act) and the State Records Act 1998.
In addition, the audit considered relevant requirements and guidance set out in the Model Code of Conduct for Local Councils in NSW 2018 (the Model Code), the NSW Government Procurement Policy Framework 2019, and relevant ICAC publications.
1.2 Legislative requirements for procurement
The requirements that specifically relate to procurement in Local Government are detailed in:
- Section 55 of the Act
- the Amendment
- Part 7 and Section 217(1)(a2) of the Regulation
- the Tendering Guidelines
- Part 3, Division 5 of the GIPA Act.
These legislative requirements relate to how councils should conduct tenders and publish their contract registers. There are no specific legislative requirements for other aspects of planning and managing procurement, or for non-tendered procurements.
Requirements for tenders
Section 55 of the Act details the requirements for tendering. This includes specifying the types of contracts for which tenders are required such as contracts for the provision of goods and services and contracts for the disposal of property. Contracts of a certain value or more, and otherwise not exempt under the Act, must follow the tendering requirements. This amount is referred to as the ‘tender threshold’ in this report, and it was $150,000 until 24 June 2019 but increased to $250,000 with the introduction of the Amendment.
Part 7 of the Regulation applies to all contracts for which a council is required by Section 55 of the Act to invite tenders. The Regulation specifies the requirements for the three different tendering methods (open tendering, selective tendering by which invitations to tender are made after public advertisement for expressions of interest, or selective tendering by which recognised contractors listed by the council are invited to tender). This includes what the advertisement must cover and the minimum timeframe for advertising the tender. The Regulation also specifies what tender documents must cover (for example, details of the work to be carried out and the tender assessment criteria), the means of tender submission, the handling of tenders after receipt, and the acceptance of tenders.
The Tendering Guidelines were prepared under Section 23A of the Act and councils are required to take the guidelines into consideration when exercising their functions. The Tendering Guidelines cover the tendering process in detail. This includes steps such as identifying and defining tender requirements, developing evaluation criteria, selecting the tendering method, developing tender documents, communication with tenderers, and tender negotiation.
Requirements for publication of contract registers
The GIPA Act requires that all government agencies (including councils) publish a contract register. Part 3, Division 5, Sections 29 to 31 specify the mandatory information to be entered in this register. As a minimum, for contracts with a value of $150,000 or more, this includes:
a) the name and business address of the contractor
b) the particulars of any related body corporate or private sector entity in which the contractor has an interest, that will be involved in carrying out any of the contractor’s obligations or will receive a benefit under the contract
c) the date on which the contract became effective and the duration of the contract
d) the particulars of the project to be undertaken, goods or services to be provided or the real property to be leased or transferred under the contract
e) the estimated amount payable to the contractor
f) a description of any provision under which the amount payable may be varied
g) a description of any provision regarding renegotiation of the contract
h) if the contract arose from a tender process, the method of tendering and a summary of the assessment criteria
i) a description of any provisions under which it is agreed that the contractor is to receive payment for providing operational or maintenance services.
Section 217(1)(a2) of the Regulation also requires councils to include in their annual report details of each contract awarded by the council during the year, whether as a result of tender or not. This applies to contracts valued at $150,000 or more, excluding employment contracts. The required information includes:
- name of the contractor
- nature of the goods or services supplied by the contractor
- total amount payable to the contractor under the contract.
Other relevant legislative requirements
Councils are required to ensure that their policies and procedures are consistent with the general requirements contained in the Act, the Regulation, the Model Code and the State Records Act 1998.
Under Section 8A of the Act, councils are required to act in the interests of the local community and to achieve both their desired outcomes and continuous improvements. Section 8B of the Act requires councils to have policies and processes for performance management and reporting, funding decisions and risk management. Further, Section 209(b) of the Regulation requires councils to secure the effective, efficient and economical management of financial operations within each division of the council’s administration.
The Model Code was made under the Act (Section 440) and the Regulation. It sets the minimum standards of conduct for council officials. Each council's code of conduct must incorporate, and be consistent with, the provisions of the Model Code.
Councils in New South Wales must also comply with the State Records Act 1998. Section 12(2) of this Act states that each public office must establish and maintain a records management program in conformity with the standards and codes of best practice. The ‘Standard on Records Management' also sets out the minimum compliance requirements and recommends a records management policy as one way to ensure that these requirements are met.
1.3 Other sources of guidance on procurement for councils
The NSW Government Procurement Policy Framework sets out mandatory requirements and guidance for NSW Government agencies in undertaking procurement. Its principles and processes are also relevant to the Local Government sector. It divides procurement processes into three distinct stages (planning, sourcing and managing) and specifies the core activities at each stage (from analysing business needs to contract renewals) as shown in Exhibit 1.
The series of ICAC publications on ‘Corruption Risks in NSW Government Procurement’ (2011) also provide insights into effective procurement management. For example:
- Effective control of procurement depends on the competence of staff undertaking procurement activities as well as the competence of their managers. Lack of competence has been identified as an issue for new staff and staff who do not regularly conduct procurement activities.
- A survey found that both public authorities and suppliers ranked direct negotiations and non-tendered quotations as more vulnerable to corruption risks than tendering. Such perceptions held by suppliers create great challenges for effective and efficient procurement, as suppliers may decline to make a bid, which could eventually decrease the competitiveness of government procurement.
- Clear responsibilities, accountabilities and procurement reporting lines in the organisational structure helps to avoid signature shopping and order splitting.
- Segregating duties helps to control risks associated with individuals having discretion over the procurement process.
- Accurate identification of needs, price determination and verification of delivery can improve value for money and manage the risk of misconduct.
- Reviews and audits can help in detecting and learning from mistakes.
- Record keeping facilitates accountability and evaluation.
1.4 Audited councils
The councils selected for this audit were: Cumberland City Council, Georges River Council, Lockhart Shire Council, Tweed Shire Council, Waverley Council and Wollongong City Council.
We selected these councils to include a mixture of councils in metropolitan, regional and rural areas as well as councils of different sizes, structures, priorities and levels of resourcing. The selected councils also all reported at least ten tenders in their 2017–18 annual reports. The relevant characteristics of each of the audited councils are summarised in Exhibit 2.
|Audit Office classification
|Amalgamated in 2016?
|Number of full-time equivalent (FTE) staff
|Cumberland City Council
|Georges River Council
|Lockhart Shire Council
|Tweed Shire Council
|Wollongong City Council
Exhibits 3 and 4 show the number and total value of contracts awarded by the audited councils and included in their publicly available contract registers for the audited period (1 July 2016 to 30 June 2019). The number and value of contracts awarded by each council individually are shown in Appendix two.
1.5 About the audit
This audit assessed how effectively procurement is managed in six councils. The audit covered the period 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2019 and assessed whether councils had effective policies and procedures for procurement. This included an assessment of whether:
- councils had policies and procedures for procurement, including tendering, that were consistent with:
− Local Government Act 1993
− Local Government (General) Regulation 2005
− Local Government Amendment Act 2019
− Tendering Guidelines for NSW Local Government 2009
− Model Code of Conduct for Local Councils in NSW 2018
- councils reviewed policies and procedures regularly, or as needed, to ensure they are up-to-date and reflect any legislative changes
- councils' policies and procedures were comprehensive and covered all procurement activities
- councils effectively ensured that their practices were compliant with their policies and procedures for procurement
- councils assessed outcomes and ensured value for money was achieved through procurement.
This audit did not identify any fraud or misconduct in the sample of procurements we examined in the audited councils. However, this report does not fully exclude the possibility that procurement-related fraud or misconduct has occurred in any of the audited councils. More information about this audit is provided in Appendix three.
2. Procurement management in six councils
2.1 Overview of procurement management in the Local Government sector
The Audit Office of New South Wales Report on Local Government 2018 provided a sector-level summary of procurement management in Local Government, including for tendering and contract management. The key findings are shown in Exhibit 5.
|Local Government procurement
|Councils with a procurement policy
|Councils with a documented procurement manual
|Councils provided training to staff with procurement responsibilities
|Local Government tendering
|Panel members had incomplete conflict of interest declarations
|No evidence recorded on file to support the tender process
|Councils did not have a contract management plan
|Councils with a centralised contract register
|Contract performance evaluation not performed
|No risk assessment performed before entering into significant contracts
|No key performance indicators to measure the contract performance
This sector-wide snapshot highlights that most councils had some form of procurement policy, and a majority had documented guidance in the form of a manual. However, gaps existed in relation to some key steps and controls in procurement processes. A third of councils reported they were not using key performance indicators to measure contract performance and almost two-thirds reported they were not conducting contract performance evaluations. Almost 70 per cent of councils reported not having contract management plans, and one-third of councils had tender assessment panel members with incomplete conflict of interest declarations.
These gaps in policy and practice expose risks that councils may not achieve value for money and expected benefits from their procurements. Gaps relating to consistent use of conflict of interest declarations also expose the risk that procurement processes may not be conducted objectively and with integrity.
This audit examined six councils’ policies and practices in detail to assess their compliance with the legislative requirements and their own policies, and generate insights on opportunities to mitigate procurement-related risks.
2.2 Councils’ compliance with legislative requirements for procurement
This audit assessed the six councils' policies and procedures against the legislative requirements discussed in Section 1.2. The audit then sampled six procurements undertaken during the audited period from each of the councils to examine whether their practices aligned with their policies and procedures. These procurements were of different types, values and duration, and for a range of different purposes. Details on the selected procurements are provided in Appendix two.
The audit found that the six councils’ procurement policies were consistent with the legislative requirements. That said, gaps existed in four of these councils’ documented procedures, which entailed non-compliance with some specific legislative requirements in practice. Exhibit 6 presents our assessment of the six councils’ procurement management practices against legislative requirements. As these requirements are related only to tendering and contract registers, Exhibit 6 is based on our sample of procurements above the tender and reporting thresholds.
|Cumberland City Council
|Georges River Council
|Lockhart Shire Council
|Tweed Shire Council
|Wollongong City Council
|Section 55 of the Act
|Part 7 of the Regulation
|Section 217(1)(a2) of the Regulation
|Number of procurements above the tender and reporting thresholds
|Compliant with legislative requirement
Based on examination of the selected procurements, two of the six councils (Tweed Shire Council and Wollongong City Council) complied with the legislative requirements in practice. The remaining four councils had the following gaps in compliance:
- Georges River Council did not comply with Section 29(a) of the GIPA Act during the audited period, as its contract register did not include supplier addresses for multiple contracts. The council has since rectified this issue.
- Lockhart Shire Council did not comply with Section 29(b), (c), (f), (g), (h) and (i) of the GIPA Act, as its contract register did not include information such as the effective date and duration of the contract, method of tendering and assessment criteria. The Council has since started addressing Section 29(c) by recording the effective date and duration of contracts starting from the financial year 2019–20.
- Waverley Council did not disclose the following two contracts in its annual reports, which was a breach of Section 217(1)(a2) of the Regulation:
- the contract with a recruitment company that received over $5.0 million from the council during the audited period
- a contract valued at $174,895 in the financial year 2018–19.
- Cumberland City Council, in its 2018–19 annual report, misquoted the contract reporting threshold specified in Section 217(1)(a2) of the Regulation. The council cited the threshold as $250,000 instead of $150,000. Consequently, the audit identified the omission of a contract worth $217,656 from the list of contracts reported in the council’s annual report (see Appendix two for details of this contract).
- Cumberland City Council did not have a tender box for the submission of hard copy tenders during the audited period. This breached both Section 174(1)(a) of the Regulation, which requires all councils to provide a secure tender box for the personal delivery of tender documentation, and Section 174(2), which stipulates that the tender box must be easily accessible whenever the council offices are open for business. Following discussions with the Audit Office, the council has reinstated the tender box. We have also recommended to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment that this requirement be updated –reflecting the now widespread use of paperless procurement processes.
In addition to the above instances of non-compliance, the audit found that three councils (Cumberland City Council, Georges River Council and Lockhart Shire Council) had discrepancies in contract values between their contract registers and annual reports (see Appendix two for details). Accurate reporting of contract values is important for transparency to the public and effective contract management. Of the six procurements selected from each council:
- Cumberland City Council had one discrepancy where a contract recorded as $24,570,611 in the contract register was reported as $22,336,919 in the annual report. The council advised that the discrepancy was due to a clerical error and provided evidence that the correct amount was disclosed in the annual report.
- Georges River Council had two instances of discrepancy. One contract was recorded as $88,966,155 in the contract register but $17,793,231 in the annual report, while another contract was recorded as $199,095 in the contract register but $184,095 in the annual report.
- Lockhart Shire Council had three instances of discrepancy. One contract was recorded as $3,355,300 in the contract register but $1,070,782 in the annual report, while another contract was recorded as $469,095 in the contract register but $457,510 in the annual report. The audit also found that a single contract recorded as $635,000 in the contract register was reported as two separate contracts in the annual report, with values of $180,997 and $730,079 respectively. The council advised that it inadvertently disclosed only tasks completed or payments made in the specific financial year instead of the total contract values.
2.3 Councils’ policies and procedures for procurement
Key elements of selected councils’ procurement frameworks
All six councils had policies and procedures that could be applied to all types of procurement, including procurement below the tender threshold. Five of the six councils had a dedicated procurement team to ensure compliance with policies and procedures, especially for tenders. These five councils also used tender assessment panels.
Lockhart Shire Council, due to its small size, had practices that differed from the other five councils. All procurements were centrally managed by one senior staff member with the support of other council officers when needed. It did not use a panel to assess tender offers. Instead, all tenders were reviewed by the Executive Leadership Team.
Key risks exposed by gaps in councils’ procurement policy and practice
While variation in procurement management practices is expected—reflecting councils’ different operating contexts and needs—there are some common gaps in processes and controls that may expose risks to the councils’ ability to demonstrate their procurements are justified, well managed, delivering to expectation and achieving value for money. During the audited period:
- None of the six councils consistently documented justification for their procurement needs. This exposes the risk that some procurements are not responding to identified business needs, nor delivering outcomes for the community that relate to councils’ strategic and operational plans.
- Two of the six councils (Tweed Shire Council and Waverley Council) did not enforce segregation of duties when approving procurements, which means that one staff member could have end-to-end control of a procurement. Segregation of duties should be considered a fundamental aspect of effective procurement management, and its absence from policy and practice limits transparency and exposes risks of fraud. Tweed Shire Council has since amended its system setup to ensure supervisor approval is required.
- All six councils monitored progress on capital works contracts and for externally funded projects as per their funding conditions. This is positive as capital works made up the bulk of procurements in all audited councils (in terms of volume). However, none of the six councils consistently assessed supplier performance for other types of procurement to ensure goods and services were delivered as agreed. In the absence of explicit requirements or guidelines, the completion of supplier performance assessment was at the discretion of staff undertaking the procurement. In some cases, such assessments were not conducted, and in other cases, results were not documented or shared within the council. This exposes the risk that contracts with underperforming suppliers could be renewed without scrutiny—limiting value for money.
- While all six councils maintained a centralised contract register for procurements above the reporting threshold as per requirements under the GIPA Act, three (Cumberland City Council, Lockhart Shire Councils and Waverley Council) did not require contracts below the reporting threshold to be centrally registered. The reporting threshold is set at a relatively high benchmark ($150,000) and a lack of central monitoring of any contracts below this threshold exposes risks to transparency and effective contract management. For example, without a central register it is more difficult to identify if procurements are likely to be duplicative of existing contracts, or to ensure that underperforming suppliers are not being re-contracted. Cumberland City Council has since adopted the practice of registering all new contracts valued at $20,000 or more.
- Only one council (Wollongong City Council) had a training program dedicated to procurement management. It ensured staff members had undertaken the relevant training prior to participating in procurement activities. There were gaps in the provision of training in the other five councils. For example, procurement training was not organised for staff (Georges River Council and Lockhart Shire Council); procurement training was not compulsory even for staff with core procurement responsibilities (Cumberland City Council); and the procurement training on offer did not cover the council’s policies (Tweed Shire Council and Waverley Council). The lack of timely and appropriate training exposes the risk that staff may not have the necessary knowledge and skills to undertake or monitor procurements. Georges River Council and Tweed Shire Council have since implemented procurement training for staff.
Exhibit 7 provides a summary of our assessment of the six councils’ procurement policy and procedures during the audited period. It focuses on processes and controls that help mitigate procurement-related risks, drawing on the Audit Office of New South Wales Report on Local Government 2018 and guidance from sources such as ICAC and the NSW Government Procurement Policy Framework.
|Cumberland City Council
|Georges River Council
|Lockhart Shire Council
|Tweed Shire Council
|Wollongong City Council
|Procurement policy and procedures in place
|Contract management policy in place
|Centralised contract register
|Documented justification of procurement needs
|Segregation of duties
|Involvement of procurement team
|Managing conflicts of interest
|Established approach to tender assessment
|Assessment of supplier performance
|Evaluation of community outcomes and value for money
Council’s compliance with their own procurement policies
In the selected procurements we examined for the audit, all six councils broadly complied with their own policies and procedures. Instances of non-compliance identified during the audit are described below:
Cumberland City Council did not comply with the requirement to conduct supplier performance reviews for any of the selected procurements examined.
Georges River Council did not document all the steps up to the awarding of a contract for any of the selected procurements examined.
Georges River Council did not conduct an outcome evaluation for any of the selected procurements examined.
3. Addressing common risks: opportunities to improve procurement management
While all six councils had procurement policies in place and were generally compliant with legislative requirements, this report has identified common gaps in processes and practices that expose risks to transparency, accountability and value for money.
This section discusses how councils can mitigate risks and ensure the best outcomes are achieved from their procurements.
Documented justification of procurement needs
The ICAC notes that determining what goods and services an agency requires is the first step of procurement, and the scope for corruption in how need is determined is significant. Without documenting how procurement needs have been justified, councils cannot demonstrate that they fulfill business needs, nor how the procurements may link to the councils’ strategic plans to deliver to the community.
This audit found that none of the six councils’ policies required them to document justification of procurement needs, and none did so consistently in practice. Councils can address this gap by building into their procurement planning process a requirement for staff to document the justification of procurement needs. For higher value procurements, this could be extended to include analysis of options, an assessment of risks and defining intended outcomes. Similarly, clearly establishing and documenting how relevant procurements relate to a council’s community strategic plans or operational plans helps ensure transparency.
Although a formal business case may not be required for many procurements (for example, low-value procurements or routine replacements), some form of documented justification for the expenditure should still be kept on record to demonstrate that the procurement relates to business purposes and is needed.
Segregation of duties
Segregation of duties is an effective control for reducing risks of error, fraud and corruption in procurement. It works on the principle that one person should not have end-to-end control of a procurement. Effective segregation of duties also often involves managerial or independent oversight that is built into the process. Four of the audited councils (Cumberland City Council, Georges River Council, Lockhart Shire Council and Wollongong City Council) appropriately addressed segregation of duties in their procurement frameworks. For example:
All procurements in Cumberland City Council required a delegated officer’s approval before commencing, and the requisitioning department is responsible for ensuring the completion of the goods, works or services associated with each contract. For contracts over $50,000, a specific ‘Authority to Procure’ form had to be completed by the requesting staff, signed by an approver and then forwarded to the procurement team.
- Reflecting its small size, all procurements in Lockhart Shire Council were managed by one senior staff member. Nevertheless, this staff member had to bring contract management plans to the rest of the Executive Leadership Team for review and discussion, with large contracts such as those above the tender threshold referred to Council for approval.
The ICAC notes that segregation of duties helps to control discretion, which has particular risk implications for some types of procurement.2 This includes those involving low-value and high-volume transactions, restricted tenders, long-standing procurements and ‘pet projects’ (projects advocated by individual staff members). In cases where corruption risks are low, ICAC notes that monitoring staff’s involvement in procurement may be a cost-effective alternative to total segregation of duties.
Assessment of supplier performance
Councils need to monitor and assess supplier performance to ensure suppliers deliver the goods and services as agreed. The audit found that all six councils consistently monitored progress in capital works and for externally funded projects. Contract monitoring in these cases included ensuring timelines, funding, and legislative requirements were met. This is positive, as capital works made up the bulk of procurements (in terms of volume) in all of the audited councils.
That said, in all six councils, the level of scrutiny was lower for other types of procurements, and there is scope for improvement. For instance, the approach to monitoring capital works or externally funded projects could be replicated across other procurements of a similar nature and value. Conducting assessments and keeping records of supplier performance on all procurements does not need to be onerous, but instead provides useful information to inform future decision-making—including by helping ensure supplier pricing remains competitive, and avoiding re-engaging underperforming suppliers.
The NSW Government Procurement Policy Framework requires that NSW Government agencies establish systems and processes jointly with the suppliers to ensure compliance with contract terms and performance requirements. It also advises that agencies should drive continuous improvement and encourage innovation in coordination with suppliers and key stakeholders.
Centralised contract register
Centrally registering a contract provides improved transparency of procurement activities and facilitates monitoring and compliance checks. While councils are already required to maintain a contract register for all contracts above the reporting threshold (as per the GIPA Act), given the threshold is set at a relatively high benchmark ($150,000), there is merit in councils extending the practice to procurements below the reporting threshold. A central and comprehensive register of contracts helps avoid duplication of procurements and re-contracting of underperforming suppliers.
Three of the audited councils (Georges River Council, Tweed Shire Council and Wollongong City Council) had contract register policies that applied to procurements below the reporting threshold during the audited period. For example, Georges River Council required contracts valued at $10,000 or above to be registered with the procurement team, and Tweed Shire Council had a threshold of $50,000.
Evaluation of community outcomes and value for money
Councils may be progressing procurements to fulfill their strategic and business plans, or using them to fulfill commitments to the community. In these instances, outcomes evaluation is an important way to demonstrate to the community that the intended benefits and value for money have been delivered.
Five of the six audited councils did not require evaluations of community outcomes and value for money. While Georges River Council required contracts valued at $50,000 or more to be monitored, evaluated and reported on at least annually throughout the contract and also at its conclusion, in the procurements we examined the only ‘outcome evaluations’ that the council had conducted were community surveys that did not refer to individual procurements. Councils can miss opportunities to understand the impact of their work on the local community if evaluations of procurement outcomes are not completed. Evaluation findings are also valuable in guiding future resource allocation decisions.
Value for money in the procurement of goods and services is more than just having the specified goods delivered or services carried out. The NSW Government Procurement Policy Framework requires that state government agencies track and report benefits to demonstrate how value for money is being delivered. The framework notes that value for money is not necessarily the lowest price, nor the highest quality good or service, but requires a balanced assessment of a range of financial and non-financial factors, such as: quality, cost, fitness for purpose, capability, capacity, risk, total cost of ownership or other relevant factors.
Effective procurement management relies on the capability of staff involved in various stages of the process. Guidance can be provided through training, which is an important element of any procurement management framework. It ensures that staff members are aware of the councils' policies and procedures. If structured appropriately and provided in a timely manner, training can help to standardise practices, ensure compliance, reduce chances of error, and mitigate risks of fraud or corruption.
The ICAC notes that effective procurement management depends on the competence of staff undertaking procurements and the competence of those who oversee procurement activities. As the public sector is characterised by varying levels of procurement expertise, the ICAC notes that the sector would benefit from a structured approach to training and the application of minimum standards.3
At the time of this audit, only Wollongong City Council addressed staff training requirements in its procurement management framework. Exhibit 8 details its approach.
Two of the audited councils have now also introduced procurement training:
- Georges River Council implemented online training, which is mandatory for new staff and serves as refresher training for existing staff. The council also provides in-person training for selected staff (covering contract management, contract specification writing and contractor relationship management) and has developed quick reference cards for all staff to increase awareness of the council's procurement processes.
- Tweed Shire Council implemented mandatory online training for all staff members. The training covers the council's procurement policy and protocol as well as relevant legislation. It is linked to relevant council documents such as the Procurement Toolkit on the council's intranet, and includes a quiz for which training participants must score at least 80 per cent to have the training marked as completed.
© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.
Parliamentary reference - Report number #345 - released 17 December 2020