MidCoast Council has been vocal in its calls for the community to support local businesses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but whether council itself has been doing enough to support the local economy is a question that has also been raised.
Business NSW regional manager for the Mid North Coast, Kellon Beard, believes MidCoast Council's procurement policy doesn't stand up compared to other councils on the Mid North Coast.
"MidCoast Council could be doing more to support local businesses than just running information sessions on procurement," Mr Beard said.
"Business NSW would encourage MidCoast Council to look at introducing a local procurement policy that assists local businesses across the local government area (LGA) in these tough economic times."
A procurement policy outlines the guidelines under which goods and services are procured by an organisation.
Mr Beard believes Port Macquarie-Hastings Council's procurement policy, which has been offering businesses within its LGA a local supplier notional price offset of five per cent (up to $25,000) for some time, is a far better model.
In effect, this policy sees Port Macquarie-Hastings Council consider a local supplier's tender at five per cent less than the submitted tender price in order to increase the competitiveness of the supplier.
In April of this year, Port Macquarie-Hastings Council further increased this offset to 20 per cent (up to $50,000) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Beard sees this as a positive and proactive measure by the council and believes MidCoast Council should adopt a similar policy.
It doesn't matter if your price is $50,000 below the other, if you don't meet the technical spec - and that would be the same in Port Macquarie - then you wouldn't get the work.Steve Embry
But MidCoast Council's corporate services director, Steve Embry, says council has no intention of introducing a local supplier notional price offset.
He believes council can offer greater assistance to local businesses by helping them navigate the tender process itself.
"The gap we found was that often local businesses aren't actually linked in to get the procurement opportunities on a timely basis, and then when they do, particularly with some of the more civil and technical and complex works we have, they don't really have the capacity or expertise to respond in a way that they probably could with a bit of guidance and support," Mr Embry said.
"So we put our focus on improving the capacity of businesses and how they can do business with us."
MidCoast Council scheduled a series of workshops to help businesses better understand council's tendering process in 2019, but the initiative was cut short by the bushfires and only a small number of workshops were held.
Mr Embry said further workshops were scheduled for later this year.
Asked whether workshops and information sessions were as effective in helping local businesses procure local work as the policy Port Macquarie-Hastings Council had in place, Mr Embry said he believed it was as price was only one of the factors council considered when awarding a tender.
"It doesn't matter if your price is $50,000 below the other, if you don't meet the technical spec - and that would be the same in Port Macquarie - then you wouldn't get the work," he said.
MidCoast Business Chamber president, John Stevens said it would be unfair to suggest that MidCoast Council weren't taking a proactive approach to supporting local businesses, but he did believe there was room for its procurement policy to have a greater local focus.
"We certainly notionally support the idea that there should be some kind of local preferential policy in place, even if that isn't a percentage reduction in terms of the dollar value of the proposed contract," Mr Stevens said.
"What we would really like to see is the data on what tenders are being secured by local businesses."
Mr Embry said approximately 40 to 50 per cent of council purchasing went to local contractors, but that the figure didn't paint the full picture.
"We have some large projects where there'll be a head contractor who may not be local. They may be from Newcastle, they may be from Sydney, but they use local subcontractors, and that happens on a lot of our bigger works and we don't pick that up in that percentage," Mr Embry said.
"But we do use a lot (of local contractors)."
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