Want to foster sustainable development in procurement? Use social considerations

Ahead of our upcoming joint event “Social economy enterprises and public procurement: a win-win combination for social inclusion” at the European Platform against Poverty & Social Inclusion Convention (EPAP) on November 20-21, following on from last week and the week previous, this is the last article of the series focusing on one specific opportunity that the new public procurement directive provides for social economy enterprises and non-profit service providers to promote social inclusion objectives. This week we will focus on so-called ‘social considerations’.

Public procurement is the process whereby public authorities purchase the goods, works and services they need. Procurement procedures can be used by a public authority not only to buy what it needs, but also to achieve sustainable development objectives. This is done through social and environmental considerations.

To give an example of social and environmental concerns, a public authority procures the construction of roads, bridges, and bus services in order to perform the public function of facilitating public transport. It can also decide that the contractor employs a percentage of workers belonging to ethnic minorities or unemployed in the contracted work, or that the bus transport service limits the gas emissions and noise level to a certain level.

Procurement procedures have different stages. The ‘technical specifications’ define the required characteristics of the product/work/service the contracting authority wants to buy. The bids that do not meet those requirements are rejected. The ‘award criteria’ (the lowest cost and the ‘most economically advantageous tender – MEAT’) give weight to the different combinations of criteria: if the lowest cost is used, only the price or a life-cycle cost is used; if MEAT is used, social considerations can be included among the different criteria to be weighed, together with the price or cost, and others such as quality and environmental considerations. The last stage, which is not compulsory, is the ‘contract performance clause’: this sets out how a contract should be performed; they are additional specific conditions of the contract that can include social and environmental considerations.

Social Platform, together with the Network for Sustainable Development in Public Procurement, lobbied for ensuring that social considerations could be included in all three stages. Unfortunately, the new directive adopted in March 2014 allows for very limited social considerations to be included in the technical specifications: the procedures related to the products/services/works that are intended for use by persons shall include accessibility criteria for persons with disabilities and usable for all.

Depending whether social considerations are included in the technical specifications (as is required), or in the award criteria (what is preferred) or in the performance clauses (additional preferences), there is a different importance given to the social or environmental objectives that the public authority wants to achieve with a specific tender.

During our event, we will give some examples of social considerations that allowed social economy enterprises to win contracts. The most common cases concern employment of long-term job-seekers and the implementation of training measures for the unemployed or young persons in the course of the performance of the contract to be awarded.