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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Diversity in Public Procurement

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Meg gave the following speech at a conference organised by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Public Services Forum.


This is a well timed event. The Equalities Review final report, Fairness and Freedom, was published yesterday, and the Discrimination Law Review Green Paper will be published shortly. Both Reviews recognise the interaction between public procurement and equality outcomes.


Fairness and Freedom is an important piece of work. It tackles persistent inequalities within society, and suggests ways to change these in the future. We will give consideration to the recommendations in the report, including those on procurement.


The public sector spends around £125 billion a year on a wide range of goods and services. But this spend shouldn’t be just about getting the lowest price. Getting the best value for money, yes - which includes taking account of the needs of the users of public services.


Last month Government published Transforming Government Procurement setting out our overall approach to procurement policy. It outlined a range of public reforms designed to ensure that the UK has world class public services that are value for money for the taxpayer, and are based on fair and open competition. We want to raise public sector skills and develop innovative procurement methods that bring high quality public services for our diverse communities.


Sustainable Procurement

Recognising the importance of equality considerations we also have to focus on the need for sustainable procurement. We established an independent task force, chaired by Sir Neville Simms, which published recommendations for improving sustainability in this area. The procurement process is required to meet targets already agreed by Government for its own estate and in particular on carbon emissions, energy, consumption, water and biodiversity.


The Office of Government Commerce’s guidance note on ‘Social Issues in Purchasing’, published last year, is particularly relevant here. It makes clear that EU law allows both equality and environmental issues to be taken into account in public sector procurement where they are relevant to the contract, and provides guidance on how and when this can be done.


Government, business, equality interest groups and public and voluntary sector bodies increasingly recognise the scope for using public sector procurement to achieve greater equality through:

  • ensuring suppliers comply with equality requirements, including discrimination law and family friendly legislation,
  • ensuring that contracts for delivering services meet the needs of diverse communities, and
  • promoting the economic engagement of businesses led by people from disadvantaged groups. 

We welcome the commitment of the CBI, and the businesses represented here, in promoting equality within society. The case studies you heard earlier demonstrated how private sector firms are taking equality into account in service delivery. In addition they recognised that diversity is important to business success in today’s increasingly diverse society.


Public Sector Pilots

In the public sector a number of public authorities incorporate equality considerations into their procurement strategy. For example, a number of Government departments are taking part in pilots designed to promote race equality in accordance with the public sector race duty. The Department for Work and Pensions is trialling equality terms and conditions in their New Deal contracts and similar measures have been taken by the Identity and Passport Service and by the Department for Education and Skills concerning Children’s Centres.


Another example is the MOSAIC project funded by the Department for Health. As Fairness and Freedom highlights, health is a key measure of equality and MOSAIC promotes effective healthcare for all racial groups. The project seeks to address race equality concerns in NHS procurement by focusing on three main areas:

  • working with NHS organisations and staff, especially on workforce development issues,
  • helping NHS suppliers understand the legal requirements of the race equality duty, and reviewing their work practices in relation to Black and Minority Ethnic Communities, and
  • promoting small and medium-sized enterprises and Black and Minority Ethnic suppliers in particular, as a means of promoting race equality. 

We are keen to build on this, and support the use of the procurement process in contributing to equality. In December Government introduced a public sector disability duty, and from April a gender equality duty will come into effect. These duties, together with the existing race duty, require public authorities to assess the relevance of race, disability and gender equality issues when contracting out services.


Clear Guidance and Collaboration

But we are clear that no unnecessary or unreasonable demands are to be placed on the private sector, particularly on small businesses who we would not want to be deterred from bidding for contracts. Clear guidance, and collaboration between public sector purchasers and their suppliers, will benefit everyone.


The Discrimination Law Review has been working with a number of organisations, including the CBI and its members, in developing proposals on public sector procurement. As I said earlier, we will publish the Discrimination Law Review Green Paper for consultation shortly. The results of the consultation will help determine the scope of the modernisation of the equality legislation we have. I invite everyone to respond to this consultation.


Diversity and inclusiveness in public procurement is an important issue, and I am grateful to the CBI for putting on this event for people to discuss and share their experience. I am sorry that I am not able to stay for the panel discussion, I am sure you will have an interesting debate.


For details about Fairness and Freedom see: http://www.theequalitiesreview.org.uk/


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