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At the recent Leicester Law School Sustainable Public Procurement event, one of the stand-out sessions was presented by Natalie Evans, Responsible Procurement Manager for the City of London Corporation, the government body that runs services in the centre of the capital. She is one of only two full-time and dedicated people with that job title in local government, as far as she knows.

One of her suggestions was that sustainable procurement should be positioned in different ways for different internal stakeholders to gain strong buy-in. “The fire services respond well to linking it with health and safety issues; other senior executives like the idea of doing something innovative and winning awards for the work” she explained. She also uses the legislation to justify activities when that is appropriate.

Benchmarking can be another useful tool to drive change; she produced tables to show how different councils were performing on the use of sustainable energy, which led to “members wanting to improve their position in the league”.

The three pillars for the sustainable agenda in the City are social value, environmental sustainability, and ethical sourcing. Evans provides guidance to category managers, explains how different issues fit into the agenda and sets thresholds in terms of the size of spend or contract for which sustainable actions should apply.

The range of issues included is extremely broad. In London, not surprisingly, air quality is a key area of interest and concern. The authority has stopped buying diesel vehicles unless that is absolutely unavoidable. Hybrid taxis have been introduced and dust suppression is a key issue on construction sites. Improving road safety is another issue on the agenda. The council sends heavy goods vehicle drivers on cycling courses so they understand what it is like to be a cyclist on London’s busy roads (not very pleasant, is the answer!)

Social inclusion includes issues such as encouraging suppliers to offer apprenticeships, or time and skills to charities perhaps where the firm is too small to take on apprentices. One small supplier for example that does forensics work sends staff into schools to promote the idea that kids should study science and technology subjects. Suppliers are also encouraged to recruit disabled people and promote equality.

The “London living wage” is a tricky issue in some sectors, particularly social care with its large and lowly paid workforce. Suppliers can explain in tenders why they are not offering it and “provide a business case for that” Evans explains, “but no-one has done this yet”!

The City is trying to erode the barriers to smaller firms, the charity and social enterprise organisations winning contracts. Spend is being targeted as far as possible (but legally) towards organisations with a strong environmental or social mission. Evans is helping social enterprises get known better – and all tenders with a value between £10K and £100K must include at least one small or local firm or social enterprise on the bid list.

Sometimes a trade-off can be offered to help persuade suppliers take action. A taxi firm provided more hybrid vehicles in return for getting better compliance to contract, without the council incurring any additional cost.

Another interesting idea is the use of a “social value consultation panel” – external experts who can advise the council on what they’re doing in the space and come up with “lots of ideas”. Some other tips from Evans included:

– Get whatever you can in the specifications and contract – that is easier than trying to handle everything as part of the scored evaluation.

– However, be prepared to give significant weighting to sustainability measures; 10% is not unusual for the City.

– Request price variants if you aren’t sure what the cost effect of the sustainability actions you are asking the suppliers to take is likely to be.

– Provide a “menu” where appropriate e.g. in the employment area, suppliers can choose from around 10 different options they can offer including work experience, training, apprenticeships, local recruitment, etc.

All in all, a very impressive programme, we thought. You can read more about it on the City of London website and also as part of the London Responsible Procurement Network (via the EC Procurement Forum website).

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