During the Covid-19 pandemic, much of the focus has been on shoring up existing delivery and, where possible, extending arrangements if it is not possible to re-procure.
I am looking forward to the next piece it runs on “Category management: a simple guide for our readers”. And so it was that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published “A plan for public procurement: food and catering”, with the following explanation:
“The plan sets out what standards the public sector and suppliers are encouraged to follow when buying food and catering services.
It proposes a new but voluntary approach, involving use of a balanced scorecard and an e-marketplace, to improve food procurement in the public sector.
The plan focuses on:
- provision of a “toolkit” which enables food procurers to consider a variety of factors when making decisions about procurement
- working together with industry, procurers, researchers and farmers to support opportunities for British grown produce and food within the public procurement market
- ongoing work to develop the toolkit through five different working groups covering procurers, suppliers, research and technology bodies (focusing on innovation), assurance schemes and Local Enterprise Partnerships.”
This plan is not just relevant to the purchasing habits of Government departments, but schools, local authorities and other public bodies.
A cunning plan?
There are some who might think that the Government is sceptical about social value in public procurement, but this plan is very much the initiative of the recently replaced Secretary of State, Owen Patterson, whose interest in supporting British farmers has led to the most comprehensive piece of work done by the current Government on sustainable procurement.
The plan has three components:
- A report in the name of Dr. Peter Bonfield
- A balanced scorecard that describes an evaluation approach that includes, alongside cost, within the qualitative criteria, factors relating to production, health and wellbeing, resource efficiency, socio-economic e.g. fair and ethical trade, local and cultural engagement and quality of service
- A new Government procurement policy statement
All of these publications are readable and contain numerous nuggets. Two of these bear a particular mention:
- The first is in the Bonfield Report which states that the Plan empowers procurers to voluntarily adopt a number of good practices, including “seek to achieve best value for money, in line with Treasury principles. These include economic, environmental and social value benefits, alongside keeping costs to a minimum, and supporting sustainable production systems, such as those practised by our best food producers”;
- The second is in the balanced scorecard which acknowledges that “in this document, we haven’t set out exactly which of the mandatory conditions should be regarded as technical specifications and which are contract performance conditions (a distinction made in EU law). This will be clarified at a later date.”
From this we learn two things: social value is a key Treasury principle and more guidance will be issued (I assume, once the new EU procurement directive has been implemented in UK regulations).
A feast for all
The Defra Procurement Plan does not just mean a more sustainable policy for food and catering. It sets out a template for what the Government might regard as good practice in public procurement as a whole; as such it is a very welcome addition to what had become stores depleted of wholesome help from the UK government. It has been worth the wait.
For more information
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