Procurement a vital enabler to build back better

Posted: 11 January 2021, in News

At the end of last year Partnership for Procurement (P4P) ran a series of focus groups with stakeholders, private sector partners and social enterprises to ask about their views on public sector procurement. We also focused on future opportunities, sector support needs, P4P services as we move into 2021 and a new three-year social enterprise action plan, plus – we hope – a new funding round for P4P.

The interest in (and potentially the motivation to do business with) enterprising third sector organisations heightened during the pandemic. There was a recognition that the sector can respond quickly in a crisis, is open to collaboration to get things done and is innovative in its approach. By innovative I mean that the sector demonstrated the ability to stop some services, start new services and / or do things differently to respond to needs in their communities.

From a tendering perspective, what is the public sector motivation to buy goods and services from social enterprises? Some focus group members said that they have a commitment to delivering on social value and that this is clearly set out in their company’s strategy. Their company’s motivation was the same as the client (in this case the Public Sector) looking to build a strong Scottish economy, deliver local benefits and fulfil pledges in the sustainable procurement duty. Having this built into their core values was an incentive to do business with the sector. 

The main challenge reported was understanding who is out there and where to find organisations. Aside from the ‘usual suspects’ there’s still a huge knowledge gap on the range of organisations and the market generally. A recent Scottish Government report on the impact of the sustainable procurement duty reported “… a lack of understanding or awareness among public bodies of what third sector bodies can offer, as well as a lack of capacity and skills in the third sector to bid for contracts. The feedback indicates that support may be required to address these gaps”.

In addition The Scottish Government recently published an advisory note to further clarify the policy in Scotland on measuring social impact through procurement. The Scottish policy procurement notice SPPN 10  advised “…public bodies must engage with communities who have an interest in the contract to get the best possible outcome.” 

The importance of meaningful engagement, at the earliest opportunity, ensuring that contract requirements don’t automatically exclude social enterprise and the need to build capacity within the sector, are recurring themes and one that P4P has sought to address through our brokering service.  

Meet the Buyer sessions have in part proved useful, however, it was felt that organisations often lacked capacity to turn this into a real opportunity and failed to follow up with buyers after the event.

We recognise that further work is needed to support public sector buyers to engage with the sector and better understand the range of products and services on offer. Where there are community benefits within a contract these should be scored and form an integral part of the contract management and reporting. 

The Scottish Government’s 10 year social enterprise strategy commits to building capacity and business support for the sector, enabling enterprising third sector organisations to work and deliver effectively within the procurement process and to work towards that level playing field. 

The new iteration of the social enterprise action plan is imminent and with procurement continuing to evolve in Scotland alongside newer approaches such as Community Wealth Building (CWB) there are real opportunities for the sector, with a focus on localised service delivery and retaining spend locally. 

We look forward to the launch of the new 3-year action plan as we all (I hope!) agree that social value is important for the public sector and therefore bidders. P4P believes there is a real opportunity for enterprising third sector organisations in public sector procurement, through this shared ambition.  

Yvonne McBride, Manager, Partnership for Procurement (P4P)

The  partners / stakeholders and private sector representative sessions were facilitated by Zahra Hedges from Samtaler. Aligned to their work around social value the social enterprise group was facilitated by P4P.