social value through procurement is often seen as a tick-box exercise –
something that is nice to do if you can. But isn’t this the wrong way of looking
at the challenge of how to deliver social outcomes?
wider community benefits are viewed as a luxury or ‘add on’ to normal service
delivery then many procurement people will continue to see this triple bottom
line as too costly, time consuming and risky to implement.
sector organisations must get better at putting social value at the heart of the
services being procured, integrating deeper outcomes into their daily service
delivery so there is no separation between the two.
and legislation reiterating the importance of social value in public service
delivery are all around us. Most recently the Public Services (Social Value) Act
places requirements on contracting authorities to consider how their
procurement policy might improve the economic, social and environmental
well-being of their area.
is not new thinking and there are many good examples out there already. In 2010
the European Commission published Buying Social: a guide to taking account of
social considerations in public procurement. This document defines ‘buying
social’ as promoting employment opportunities, social and labour rights, social
inclusion, ethical trade issues, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and
2011 the European Commission published its CSR strategy for the next four
years. This guidance states that enterprises should have processes in place to
integrate social, environmental, economic, ethical, human rights and consumer
concerns into their core strategy and business operations.
this guidance and legislation, why aren’t more organisations knitting social
outcomes into their daily business operation?
be fair, many are but the majority are not. The reason being ‘risk’. Too many
public procurement professionals view the risk of buying, in a socially
responsible way, is too high. Some feel that complex procurement regulations
make the integration of wider community benefits into contracts too difficult.
Others think it will cost too much and lowest price must be their aim above all
else. Many buyers don’t see social outcomes as their responsibility and they
don’t think they have time for it. Some feel that suppliers won’t respond and
others think they don’t have enough expertise to get it right.
want this blog to address these challenges and provide a road map for
procurement professionals, showing them how to integrate social clauses into
my organisation, Fusion21, creating social outcomes has always been central to our
operation. We procure goods and services for public sector organisations and
our aim is get the best terms for our clients. But that isn’t just about
securing the lowest price and the highest quality service. Clients know that
every pound they spend through our frameworks helps to create jobs for local
people and supports small businesses in nearby areas. So far we have created
nearly 1,000 jobs in the communities of our clients.
a paradigm shift is needed if more organisations are going to adopt a socially
responsible approach to buying. Currently, procurement strategy isn’t seen as a
priority at senior level; it’s regarded as a means to an end and a process for
people on the ground to deliver.
need leadership at the top of authorities to change this. At the end of the
day, to deliver different outcomes, something different must happen. We must
challenge inertia because “once people
are satisfied they know how to do things well, they have very little incentive
to change or adopt new methods.” (Robertson &
problem is that one size doesn’t fit all. Intelligent procurement is about
determining how to get the most out of each and every type of spend. Cabinet
and executive officers must look at the potential to link with local priorities
and existing social programmes around issues such unemployment, re-offending
and anti-social behaviour. They also must create visibility of future contracts
in order to gauge potential and give local supply chains sufficient time to
prepare and respond.
service commissioners must develop specifications to include social
requirements. The importance of this social aspect should be consistent
throughout the tender process and requirements must be measurable to enable
comparisons in performance. Bear in mind that there is no need for bespoke
requirements for every tender; authorities should consider adopting existing successful
service providers, the first step must be to identify which of their services
has the greatest capacity to generate social outcomes. Creating an action plan is
a useful way of addressing key social issues and linking future procurement
with them. Remember to let stakeholders know about the activity you’re doing to
tackle key social issues.
with others throughout this process will ensure you don’t duplicate effort.
Team up with partner organisations to develop more impactful interventions and
it comes to suppliers, procurers must engage early on to help the supply chain
prepare for this new way of working and see it as an opportunity. Give suppliers
access to your social plans so they can develop their offer based on what’s
important to you. Ensure the procurement process is open to SMEs, social
enterprises and voluntary sector suppliers – this will help to boost the social
value you deliver.
sector suppliers and service providers must demonstrate how they have achieved
clear benefits and economic returns for their community, that can’t be achieved
elsewhere. They must also raise their own profile as a viable supplier of
services – amongst commissioners and other suppliers and be prepared to
collaborate with others to compete for larger contracts.
are all important steps but remember, procurement isn’t a silver bullet.
Including social value clauses at tender stage is a means to an end and not the
end itself. To achieve this end goal a few key things need to be in place. Leadership,
joined up policies and the development of local and regional strategies is
essential. Collaboration, amongst commissioners, service providers and
throughout the supply chain is also vital. There are many barriers to making
socially responsible procurement widespread. Only a collective, consistent and
target driven approach will allow it to win through.
Dave Neilson, Chief Executive of Fusion21, spoke at ResPublica's event ‘Putting Social Value at
the Heart of Public Services’. Find further info here.