Social value an increasingly important element to public procurement

3 November 2020: The Cabinet Office has announced new guidance on procurement for government departments, executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies (quangos), widening the criteria for contract selection to include social value and payment practices.

The social value in procurement model will come into force on 1 January 2021 and is intended to be used by government departments to assess a supplier’s social impact. The hope is that this will mean more opportunities for SMEs and social enterprises to win more of the £49bn spent on public contracts each year.

The Cabinet Office stresses that value for money will still be paramount, but by including a bidder’s ‘social value score’ into the assessment of each contract bid, the wider positive benefits provided by businesses can be taken into account, helping to build a more resilient and diverse supplier base.

The social value model, which departments will use to assess contract bids, includes how suppliers are helping local communities recover from the impact of COVID, how they tackle economic inequality, combat climate change and reduce waste, promote equal opportunity, tackle inequality, reduce the disability employment gap, and improve health, wellbeing and community integration.

This was followed up last week by the publication of a further procurement policy note (PPN) on another aspect of supplier behaviour – in this case on whether they are paying their own suppliers on time.

The procurement of many government contracts in excess of £5m per annum will now require suppliers to demonstrate they have paid their own suppliers in accordance with contractual terms and also that they are paying 95% of invoices within 60 days. 

If they can’t do so – or can’t provide an acceptable reason and an action plan to improve –they will be excluded from bidding or renewing contracts outside limited circumstances, such as a civil emergency or non-competitive markets.

Together, these moves indicate an increasing willingness by the Government to use its buying power to promote its economic and social agenda, without – it is hoped – compromising the value for money it obtains on behalf of taxpayers.

Alison Ring, director for public sector at ICAEW, commented: “The Government is the biggest purchaser of goods and services in the UK, but many socially responsible small businesses have struggled to win contracts in the face of competition from much larger businesses with less than stellar records on social and environmental responsibility.

By tipping the scales slightly in their favour, the Government hopes that it can encourage SMEs and social enterprises to compete more effectively in winning public contracts, with the added benefit to departments of diversifying their supplier bases.

Whether these changes in procurement rules will have the desired effect is uncertain. There remain many bureaucratic obstacles in the way of smaller businesses and social enterprises winning public contracts and these are likely to need addressing too if the Government is to achieve its objectives here.” 

Copies of the new procurement policies can be found on the Cabinet Office website.

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This article was originally published on the ICAEW website.

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