LOCAL companies should soon have a better chance of winning contracts in the public sector after Cambridgeshire County Council’s cabinet decided to recommend new procurement rules that include benefits to the community.

In the expectation that the full council will endorse the plan next month, senior councillors are recommending companies to register their offers of goods and services with a new website - sourcecambridgeshire.co.uk - to trigger e-mail notification of potential work.

The changes are being steered through the council by Councillor Steve Count, cabinet member for resources and performance, who told The Hunts Post that the website would in due course also list potential contracts with other local authorities in the county and with neighbouring counties such as Northamptonshire, with which CCC already shares some back-office functions.

"We want to get local employers able to deal with us as easily as possible," he added. "Any contract worth over £10,000 will go onto the website. Suppliers can look to see whether there's anything for them at the moment or can register the goods and services they want to supply, which generates e-mails when anything comes up in their interest area."

Previously, contracts have been awarded solely on the basis of price.

"Now, when we go through the more formalised processes [for larger contracts], will not be based on price alone," Cllr Count explained. "We might ask about local employment opportunities, green transport and so on.

"Then we can award contracts on the basis of best value for people in Cambridgeshire rather than just the lowest cost."

The new system will apply to the council's £250million annual non-schools procurement budget. The wider implications of bids that have benefits for anywhere in the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership area, which includes parts of neighbouring authorities, will be included.

"We are a big purchaser on anybody's definition. If we can't get local firms involved, we are missing out on a trick."

The decision has been welcomed by the Liberal Democrat opposition, whose leader, Cllr Kilian Bourke, said it was about time the ruling Conservative group recognised the contribution local businesses made to the community.

"The council's over-reliance on 'framework contracts' has prevented many small businesses from bidding for council work, sometimes for a period of years," he added. "These should be kept to a minimum.

"The bottom line is that, if local SMEs can do council work at competitive rates, there is no reason in the world for that work to go elsewhere."

CCC contracts up to £2,000 can be awarded by officers. Between £2,000 and £30,000, three written quotations are required, at least one of which should, wherever possible, be from a local supplier. Similarly with contracts between £30,000 and £100,000, although more paperwork is involved. And the red tape increases further when the value exceeds £100,000.

Contracts above €200,000 [c£174,000] must be advertised in the Official Journal of the EU, with suppliers from all member states entitled to bid.