MORE than 2,000 separate contracts are in place with Dorset Council – many of them supporting local businesses.

Councillors have been told that, although the council might want to, it is powerless to award contracts only to local firms.

Of the 2,106 contracts currently on the council database the biggest number, 719, are involved with adult care; with 349 for public health; 293 for children’s services and 258 for highways.

Almost 500 other contracts are split between a range of services, including financial and professional services, ITC, property services and maintenance; coastal and greenspaces, harbours, leisure, passenger transport and waste.

The council’s place and resources scrutiny committee heard on Thursday that the council has a good record in paying invoices on time and did try and help small and medium-sized contracts by breaking them down into smaller units.

Head of finance, Aidan Dunn, said that although the council wanted to help offer contracts locally legislation prevents it from doing so – with bids being advertised and then having to be awarded to the winner, wherever they were based.

He said that although bigger contracts were often easier, and usually more cost-effective, for the council it did consider if large contracts could be broken down into smaller units which were more likely to attract local small and medium-sized businesses.

Mr Dunn told councillors that, with the existing economic climate, it was increasingly likely that some of its suppliers might go out of business, which he said the authority did plan for.

The meeting heard that the council is involved in some joint contracting arrangements which can save money through economies of scale purchasing  – examples include buying energy supplies through a consortium of local councils; some highways contracts which are arranged jointly with neighbouring Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council; and some care contracts which are offered with NHS Dorset.