A key Information Note produced by the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) was launched earlier this month, by Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan TD.
The purpose of the Information Note is to assist policy makers and practitioners in understanding how public procurement can be used to facilitate the advancement of existing social policy objectives as well as the wider context and implications of including them in particular public procurement projects.
TenderScout Founder and CEO Tony Corrigan outlines the key takeaways from the Information Note below…
The information note is a bit more than that…it’s a 65 page note…and I’ve read it, so you don’t have to! (If you do want to it’s here).
In brief it’s a step by step guide to help buyers incorporate social inclusion into their buying decisions. Buyers often struggle with keeping their purchasing aligned with European and National guidelines and directives – social inclusion measures are another challenge and are typically absent from tenders in Ireland.
We have examples of other European authorities who are further down the road than we are, for example Scotland, where the Social Value Portal provides buyers with a wealth of tools to help them build social inclusion clauses into tenders.
Recent research from TenderScout shows that the vast majority of SMEs find tendering difficult – we don’t have to imagine how much harder it is for those businesses who by virtue of their staffing composition or particular business focus need a helping hand to compete on a level playing field.
This Information Note follows on from the Europe 2020 strategy which promotes smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Its objective is to ensure a social focus by: promoting employment and supporting labour mobility, promoting social inclusion and combating poverty, investing in education, skills and lifelong learning, and enhancing institutional capacity and an efficient public administration.
Everybody can agree that social inclusion clauses are a good thing – so why don’t they already appear in our tenders?
Up to now, several social inclusion clauses do exist in public tenders, mainly related to health, safety and employment.
But only very occasionally has a buyer gone further, for example by making the contract available to bidders under the ‘sheltered workshops’ provision.
The problem I would conjecture is that buyers don’t have an objection to social inclusion clauses, but don’t have either the knowledge as to how to incorporate them or in some cases any particular interest in incorporating them.
In fact, buyers have just two things to do:
- Ensure that the tender requirements are inclusive
- Ensure that the award criteria takes into account the social inclusion elements of a proposal.
Ensuring that Tender Requirements are Inclusive
It is already established in European law that a tender cannot be written in a way that confers an advantage on one bidder over another by virtue of how the requirements are articulated.
For example, you can’t specify in your requirements something that you know only one bidder is possibly able to comply with.
Just as important is to ensure that the requirements allow a variety of solutions to be proposed so long as the overall requirements and objective of the competition are met.
Ensuring that the award criteria takes into account the social inclusion elements of the proposal
Award criteria is generally divided into qualification criteria (pass / fail questions, such as turnover levels or minimum technical capability), qualitative criteria (such as quality procedures, service delivery methods, implementation strategies) and cost.
By way of example, the Information Note highlights the case of Concordia Buses. In this case, although Concordia Buses was the lowest cost tenderer, the contract was awarded to another tenderer (HKL) which had been given additional points due to better performance with relation to the quality of the fleet.
The European Court of Justice noted that in awarding a contract to the most economically advantageous tender, the procurement Directive allowed contracting authorities to determine what criteria to take into consideration provided this was done in compliance with the requirements of the Directive.
This last point should give buyers the confidence to define award criteria that acknowledges the social benefits that may accrue from awarding a contract to a particular bidder.
We have already seen in some tenders that Corporate Social Responsibility contributes to the score a bidder gets – if this and other clauses become more pervasive, then we’ll start to see greater supplier diversity and greater social inclusion as a result.
It is hoped that this Information Note, while timely and needed, is just the start of a sustained engagement with the bidding and buying communities so that social inclusion becomes a part of many more tenders than is presently the case.
Perhaps we might follow the example of Scotland? In Scotland the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act of 2014 placed an obligation on public sector bodies to incorporate community benefits clauses into tenders and to lay the foundations for the systematic delivery and reporting of social value in the Scottish public sector.
Our public representatives need to turn information notes into legal requirements for buyers so that the benefits of public procurement are felt in businesses and communities right across the land.
With TenderScout, you can not only get expert advice from those in the know, you can get matched with the procurement offers that best suit your business.
You can also gain access to an unparalleled knowledge centre and machine learning tools that will simplify the over complicated tendering process and truly ‘change the way you win’.