Smarter public procurement, major new carbon-capture projects and the benefits of HGV driver bootcamps in easing pressure on supply chains all feature in this month’s news roundup.

Public sector
Outsourcing, facilities management and consultancy head the list of services supplied to government and the public sector in the latest survey of the top-40 public sector suppliers by consultants Tussell. Between them, the 40 firms generated revenues of £19 billion from national and local government – up a fifth in 2020-21. Although strategic suppliers represent just 0.3% of the UK government’s 113,000 suppliers, they account for 11% of public spending.

Rules on UK public procurement are to be simplified, the government announced in the Queen’s Speech. Building on the white paper Transforming Public Procurement, new legislation is expected to create a single digital-supplier registration platform. Businesses will only have to submit their data once to qualify for any public sector procurement. The government also plans to give public bodies more freedom to negotiate contracts to suit their needs.

“Smarter” public sector procurement could free up an additional £56 billion a year in public spending, according to new research by the group Civil Society. New freedoms for public bodies to negotiate with suppliers, announced in the Queen’s Speech, will generate opportunities to create “economic, social and environmental value” by freeing up cash to spend on areas like the government’s levelling up agenda, the transition to net zero and strengthening communities.

“We’re always focused on providing real value for the public sector and being able to understand the exact requirements of our customers in a more open way will be very helpful. Our customers are providing vital services and we want to do everything we can to ensure that they have what they need, when they need it,” said Damian Wynne, Industry Sector Manager at RS.

Utilities and power
The projected cost of building the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset has risen by £3 billion to between £25 billion and £26 billion, builder EDF Energy announced. EDF says the new plant should start generating electricity in June 2027, assuming there are no fresh COVID-19 outbreaks. Work is already underway on installing pipework and wiring in the two new reactors at the plant.

Without urgent action future generations will face significant challenges to maintain water supplies and tackle pressures on water quality and habitats, says industry body Water UK. In a White Paper, Water UK calls for a new Rivers Act to make the water industry an integral part of the government’s environment strategy.

The UK’s North Sea regulator has issued licences for four new carbon storage areas over 30 miles off the Humber coast and 1,400 metres under the North Sea. When operational, the new stores – being built by BP and Norwegian oil company Equinor – will hold carbon captured from CO2-intensive industries on Humberside with a capacity of 23 million tonnes a year.

“We share the commitments of our customers to protect the environment through our ESG 2030 action plan which ensures our supply chain meets the highest standards,” said Chris Cruise, Industry Sector Manager at RS.

Process manufacturing
A new route to fast-track recruits into entry level roles in food and beverage manufacturing to ease skill shortages has been announced by the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink. The Careers Passport offers pre-entry accreditation to job seekers in areas such as health and safety, and food safety to a common industry standard. The Academy says it will speed up interview short-listing and job onboarding, saving the industry time and money.

Moves to scrap use-by dates on food products are gathering pace, with Co-op stores announcing they will no longer print them on their own-brand yoghurts. The decision follows on from Morrisons’ confirmation in January that they will no longer appear on their milk. Both retailers have cited the need to reduce food waste as the key factor in the change. Meanwhile, the sustainability manager at Danone UK has called for an overhaul of all food labelling to tackle confusion that she says leads to food waste. Writing in, she said expiry dates are responsible for 10% of all uneaten food that’s thrown away.

“Keeping food fresh means avoiding breakdowns. So understanding how your production assets are performing is vital. Our condition monitoring and preventative maintenance solutions have already demonstrated that they can make all the difference to food and beverage manufacturers,” said Craig Stasik, Industry Sector Manager at RS.

Soaring food costs could lead consumers to switch away from sustainable products even though three-quarters say protecting the environment is their top priority and half want to shop sustainably, according to a new survey by market research firm Quantilope. The research also found that choices about what to buy come down to price for 79% of shoppers. However, one in three say they want to buy products in sustainable packaging, 77% say they are actively reducing waste and half plan to buy less plastic, according to a report in Food and Drink News.

Almost half of UK manufacturers are reshoring their supply chains by seeking more UK-based suppliers, according to a survey by Make UK. Another two-fifths have plans to follow suit, says the manufacturers’ industry body. As well as reversing offshoring, manufacturers are also moving away from just in time supply chains following the shocks of recent years. “We may now be seeing the era of globalisation passing its peak, with disruption and volatility for global trade fast becoming normal,” said Verity Davidge, Director of Policy at Make UK.

Many UK manufacturers are concerned about the prevalence of mental health and wellbeing issues among their employees, according to Make UK. The trade body says the COVID-19 pandemic may be a factor, as well as hybrid and remote working. It is encouraging all employers to prioritise employee wellbeing over the rest of the year.

“A key element of employee wellbeing is the knowledge that the things they need to do their job, including PPE, are easily to hand when they need them. Industrial vending and e-procurement solutions play an essential role in ensuring that staff can focus on the job without worrying about where the next part is coming from,” said Richard Graham, Industry Sector Manager at RS.

Transport and defence
BAE Systems has announced a plan to build a new shipbuilding facility at Govan, in Glasgow, to produce new Type 26 frigates for the Royal Navy under cover. Planning permission has been lodged for the new-build hall, which will incorporate a dry dock. The first three ships of the type will be delivered at the rate of one every 18 months, Defence Minister Lord Younger announced in March.

The next generation of drones for the RAF are taking shape with the fitting of distinctive V-shaped tail sections, manufactured by GKN Aerospace in the Isle of Wight. The RAF says the MQ-9B Protector will be able to stay airborne for up to 40 hours while carrying out intelligence gathering and surveillance. Twelve UK manufacturers are involved in the project with contracts worth £400 million.

The UK HGV driver shortage is easing thanks to increasing wages and a determined recruitment drive by the haulage industry. Logistics UK reports that former drivers are re-joining the industry as a result of government HGV “Skills Bootcamps” designed to fast-track new drivers and to act as a refresher for those who moved to other jobs during the pandemic. Driver numbers are still lower than in 2019 but applications for HGV tests are up by more than 50% over last year.

“It’s good news that the HGV skills bootcamps are helping to ease the driver shortage. There’s no doubt that supply chain challenges remain, but that only serves to emphasise industry’s need for trusted suppliers who will deliver on their promises,” said Greg Sharp, Industry Sector Manager at RS.