Social considerations and quality crucial in public procurement to achieve a sustainable, smart and inclusive Europe

Public procurement represents 20% of the European Union GDP. To analyse the opportunities provided by the new directive to foster social inclusion, the European Network of Social Integration Enterprises (ENSIE), Social Platform, the European Confederation of Cooperatives active in industry and services (CECOP), Eurodiaconia, and the European Network of Cities & Regions for the Social Economy (REVES) jointly hosted the side event ‘Social Economy Enterprises and public procurement: a win-win combination for social inclusion!’ at the European Platform Against Poverty and Social Exclusion (EPAP) on November 20.

The first session saw representatives from social economy enterprises in Croatia and the United Kingdom share their experiences and inform the audience of their contribution to fighting poverty and promoting social inclusion. While the social cooperative Humana Nova in Croatia, and social enterprise Frame of Mind in the UK – have certainly had success in involving those previously excluded from society, it was highlighted that these schemes and others like them could achieve a lot more if they were to receive adequate support from local and national authorities. This should start with establishing an adequate legal framework where it does not exist. Jens Nilsson MEP (S&D, Sweden), former mayor of the city of Ӧstersund, stressed the added value of partnership with the social economy and, in this context, the importance of responding to the real needs of the population with public procurement, rather than applying a purely market-led approach.

The second session focused on the opportunities afforded to EU member states under the new Public Procurement Directive that was in adopted in February 2014, and the panel’s guidelines for member states. These include:

  • Include in national law the provision on reserved contracts – contracting authorities can choose to restrict some tendering procedures for the purchase of some goods, works or services to sheltered workshops and economic operators whose main aim is work integration of persons with disabilities and disadvantaged persons. This new proposal will guarantee a more effective and more sustainable integration of persons with disabilities and disadvantaged persons.
  • Integrate into national law the opportunity to reserve contracts for social services provided by social economy operators, and inform contracting authorities on all possibilities to continue successful cooperation with such operators beyond a period of three years.
  • When bids are evaluated not only on the basis of price but include different criteria to be weighted, encourage the use of social (and environmental) considerations. For example, a public authority procuring the construction of roads, bridges, and bus services may decide that the contractor must employ a certain percentage of workers belonging to ethnic minorities, or that the bus transport service limits its gas emissions.
  • Ensure that social services are only awarded to external parties on the basis of the best-quality ratio that includes quality criteria, rather than simply the lowest cost. The best-quality ratio allows the contracting authority to include specific quality criteria that are essential in the delivery of social services, e.g. the services procured should be accessible and affordable, and promote the involvement and empowerment of users.
  • Develop in all member states support mechanisms, such as the one presented by SAW-B in Belgium, to accompany local authorities, social economy enterprises and businesses to make the most of the opportunities for social objectives in the implementation of the directive.

Following the side event, the organisers released the following statement:

“The new directive provides opportunities to public authorities to achieve sustainable development objectives – including on social policy ones – when they buy goods, services and works from external parties. It is now up to member states not to close a window opened by EU legislators when they implement the directive in national laws. Reserved contracts, more emphasis on quality rather than price in the assessment of bids, and more opportunities to include social considerations in the procedures are considerable achievements for the social sector, social economy organisations and society in general. We encourage member states, regional and local authorities to work in partnership with civil society organisations and social economy enterprises to maximize the impact of the directive.”