Summit 2020: Procurement for economic reform

Ding dong, 2020 is nearly over and we here at CLES are thinking about hope in the darkness and the prospect of local economic reform as we commence the long journey to Covid-19 recovery. In this spirit we’re sharing write ups of our policy breakout sessions from November’s Community Wealth Building Summit. Today Amanda Stevens looks at the role of progressive procurement in supporting local employment and recirculating wealth and surplus locally.

In this interesting session there was broad agreement by the panel and delegates that a change in perceptions about procurement is needed: procurement professionals should be encouraged to think beyond bureaucratic and technical considerations and to consider procurement as a lever to address economic, social and environmental challenges.

The session explored the implementation of progressive procurement approaches from three unique angles. Matthew Baqueriza-Jackson set out the core operational processes that anchors need to put in place to adopt and support progressive procurement approaches. Lee Waters presented a practice-based angle and highlighted how community wealth building approaches to procurement are being applied in Wales. Finally, Alistair Pringle introduced delegates to a range of policy tools to embed equalities into procurement frameworks and support a fairer approach to economic recovery.

“put in place the tools and skills to measure the intended social outcomes and impacts of procurement”

Matthew kicked off the session by underlining the core strategic and practical considerations that anchor institutions should put in place to support the implementation of progressive procurement approaches. These include the importance of understanding the distribution and impact of procurement spend, and, crucially, the need to put in place the tools and skills to measure the intended social outcomes and impacts of procurement. As well as focussing on the processes that anchors should adopt, Matthew also explored the importance of putting measures in place to encourage suppliers to adopt practices that create beneficial social, economic and environmental impacts.

Next, Lee Waters discussed how progressive procurement approaches are beginning to be applied in Wales as part of the Welsh Government’s work around the Foundational Economy, and began by highlighting the important role that Community wealth building principles have to play in economic reform, and that progressive procurement sits within these as one of a number of tools for change.

“embedding progressive procurement can be a slow and sometimes difficult process”

Lee highlighted the need to recognise that practically embedding progressive procurement can be a slow and sometimes difficult process, particularly as anchor institutions balance their core delivery priorities against the pressures and challenges presented by the pandemic, Brexit and the ongoing impact of austerity. Having said this, significant progress is emerging in Wales, with examples including:

  • The establishment of the Foundational Economy Challenge Project Fund with a budget of £4.5m allocated to support a series of experimental projects in which the Welsh Government can test how to best support the foundational economy and establish which Government interventions work best.
  • The Foundational Economy Challenge Project Fund has also supported the development of an alternative, digital currency by Circular Economy Wales, inspired by the Sardinian “Sardex” model for use in the trade of goods and services with SMEs as a means of harnessing wealth into localities.
  • Ongoing work the Welsh government are undertaking in partnership with CLES to examine social value within procurement and supporting Public Service Boards to increase their usage of and strengthen local supply chains. Progress on this important work is being supported by the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act

“the Welsh government’s application of progressive procurement is supporting emerging thinking”

Finally, Lee discussed the link between the Welsh Government’s thinking on Grounded Firms and progressive procurement, making reference to Wales’ food and PPE manufacturers and vulnerabilities presented by Brexit and the pandemic. With specific reference to PPE, the Welsh government’s application of progressive procurement is supporting emerging thinking on sustainable, balanced and locally based production and how barriers might be shifted to encourage increased spend with local SMEs, micro-businesses social enterprises and co-ops.

Alistair outlined that, whilst the impact of the pandemic has been felt across every element of society, it has clearly heightened the social and economic challenges faced by many vulnerable individuals, while structural inequalities have been further heightened.

Alistair discussed a range of policy mechanisms and guidance that public sector bodies can use to embed social justice and equality into plans and delivery for procurement and economic recovery:

  • The Public Sector Equality Duty puts an obligation for public sector bodies to not only prevent discrimination but to embed equality across all of their functions, including procurement. EHRC have produced a guide (Buying Better Outcomes) aimed at English Local Authorities on how to mainstream equalities into procurement.
  • The Socio-Economic Duty that forms part of the Equality Act (2010) provides a framework for public authorities to think about economic disadvantage when making strategic decisions. Whilst this has not been implemented as legislation in England, the duty is live in Scotland and will soon be in Wales, although interestingly, some local authorities and combined authorities in England are now voluntarily implementing the duty.

“embed equalities as a means of fostering a more just economic recovery”

Finally, outlining the importance of having a solid framework to drive progressive procurement, Alistair reiterated the need to embed equalities as a means of fostering a more just economic recovery, and directed delegates to useful guidance from Scotland’s Centre for Regional Inclusive Growth (SCRIG) to support this.

We’re extremely grateful for the input of our speakers and our audience for this detailed and thoughtful session. The audience, in particular, who brought the debate forward with a number of important and probing questions. We’ve left the comments open on this write up in the spirit of that debate – please do add your thoughts below on how a more progressive procurement approach can support local economies through Covid-19 and beyond.

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