May 14, 2014 : Jenny Bloomfield

Will a new duty to reduce inequality make any difference to communities?

New Procurement Act has long way to go to deliver real change

Well, yesterday’s procurement debate was a bit of a mixed bag. No to the living wage, no to wage ratios, no to restricting zero hours contracts…

But yes to reducing inequality, yes to food procurement considering wellbeing and health properly, and yes to annual reports.

What does inequality being a ‘duty’ actually mean? Procurement officers will have to consider how they can reduce inequality in their local area alongside seeking improvements in ‘the economic, social, and environmental wellbeing’ of the area.

This should mean that procurement officers will be able to consider things such as the pay levels of the people who carry out the contract or whether there is a mix of people in the area who will benefit from the work created. This could include getting people furthest from the work place into work.

Why does this matter? Well, with £9 billion of public money being spent in Scotland through procurement each year, we’re talking about money that goes to health and social care contracts, schools and communities. Money must be spent in the best way possible for local areas, bringing extra benefits to those communities wherever possible. Procurement should not be about saving money in the short term, it should also look to benefit communities in the long-term. Money must be spent in a way that reduces inequality across Scotland, making us all better off in the process.

Will this make a difference? Will this mean that in practical terms, we will see real changes at a local level?

At this stage it is hard to say. It will depend on how the Act plays out in practice. Unfortunately the track record on these duties leading to real improvements on the ground isn’t great, as anyone who’s come across an Equality Impact Assessment recently will be only too aware. But I think many people in our sector will feel that any move to highlight the importance of reducing inequality in our communities is a positive step.

This should put improving wellbeing and decreasing inequality at the top of agenda for procurement officers across Scotland. We wait with bated breath to see if this happens. I have my fingers crossed.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Jenny Bloomfield