Why social procurement makes sense

A Perth Council has established a local supply register as part of an overhaul of its procurement policy, which prioritises vendors from within council boundaries.

City of Cockburn recently endorsed changes to its procurement policy which require procurement officers to get a quote from a local supplier for purchases over $20,000 and “buy local” for lower value quotes where possible.

Andreas Cebulla

The Cockburn Supplier Register lets local and regional businesses list their services and contact details on the City’s website, making it easier for City staff to connect with them when procuring goods and services.

Preference is given to businesses within the City’s boundaries, as well as suppliers from neighbouring council areas and wider Perth.

City of Cockburn Strategic Procurement Manager Tony Natale said Covid-19 had underscored the importance of the local economy and the need to safeguard its future stability.

“The City has now taken steps to further strengthen the local economy, by committing to provide further opportunities for local businesses and organisations when it’s in the market for goods and services,” he said.

Business engagement officer Sarah Kahle said Council was pursuing a shop local campaign as part of its economic recovery strategy.

“We want you to know the City is doing the same where possible,” she said.

Encouraging social procurement

 Meanwhile, the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies at the University of Adelaide has produced a toolkit to help councils add social value to procurement activity.

The Scoping the Potential of Social Procurement for Local Economic Development toolkit was produced with financial support from the Local Government Association of South Australia.

It provides guidance on how councils can identify and implement social procurement opportunities, including keeping procurement local and linking procurement to existing social programs.

Author Andreas Cebulla who is now associate professor of the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute at Flinders University, says social procurement is about giving a social benefit to the purchasing process.

“For example, rather than just buying pencils for staff in an office you request the provider to provide additional benefits, like hiring or engaging young unemployed people in the production process or in the provision of goods and services,” he told Government News.

He says it’s unclear how many councils are currently incorporating a social element into procurement.

While some have formal policies requiring procurement officers to have social benefits in mind alongside value for money, others may be doing very little.

Others still may be engaging in social procurement without even realising it, he says.

Professor Cebulla says social procurement can have many benefits for councils, such as keeping income flows in the local area, providing work experience for local young people or offering employment opportunities for marginalised groups.

It also raises their profile in the community and increases community engagement.

At the “utopian end of the scale” councils can actually create and sustain business through through their procurement policies, he says.

Social procurement can be done strategically in response to a specific project or purchase, or it can take the form of a long term engagement with a social enterprise like a disability employment service.

The easiest way to ensure a social element in procurement is to put the onus on the supplier to show they can provide a social benefit as a condition of their contract, Professor Cebulla says.

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