Cornwall Council’s Laurence Jenkin explains how the council uses its construction framework procurement power to encourage contractors to engage in training and other social benefits.
The public want to know that every pound their local authority spends helps to create jobs for local people, training opportunities and apprenticeships, and supports SMEs.
So why aren’t more public organisations embedding social outcomes into their procurement?
One of the common misconceptions about the EU procurement regime is that it is too prescriptive to allow wider social or environmental considerations to be properly addressed.
However, barriers to the use of public sector procurement to achieve social benefits are not related to legality, as long as proper procurement procedures are adhered to, but are more concerned with issues of misunderstanding and worries over
“One of the central benefits of a framework approach is that by consolidating and amalgamating spending within construction, it is possible to leverage additional benefits from the market”
Cornwall Council’s Property Services Team has recognised that it could use procurement strategy alone in a socially responsible manner to influence behaviour in the marketplace.
Without additional cost, public authorities such as Cornwall can promote employment opportunities, training, social inclusion and seek to achieve wider compliance with social standards.
Social requirements in the framework
For some categories of spending, especially construction, the impact can be particularly important, as the public sector still commands a significant share of the client market.
When procuring the capital works framework, we considered the inclusion of a range of social requirements as a legitimate tool through which Cornwall Council could:
- Meet local political agendas and goals;
- Implement legislation and government guidance;
- Achieve specific duties and policy goals.
By introducing social clauses into the framework procurement, it was possible to legitimately and legally provide a method of including clauses around the employment and payment terms for SMEs, training and upskilling of the workforce, and the creation of apprenticeship and employment opportunities.
These are all matters that have not traditionally appeared as defined or measured outcomes in construction procurement, but which are seen as positive in addressing the political desire to use capital spending to help promote investment in skills and leverage training and employment opportunities in the local community.
Leveraging the benefits
In 2012, Cornwall Council entered into a Capital Works Delivery Framework: a long-term partnership agreement with local contractors and public sector partners, including Devon and Cornwall Police, Cornwall College, Plymouth City Council, the CITB and training agencies, to drive and co-ordinate the delivery of apprenticeship, employment and training through its construction activity.
“There is greater incentive to commit through a promise of significant future workload and an ongoing client relationship”
One of the central benefits of a framework approach is that by consolidating and amalgamating spending within construction, it is possible to leverage additional benefits from the market.
Although it is perfectly possible to embed social clauses in individual contracts, it is the amalgamation of spending through a single route to market over a defined framework term that allows the exertion of more leverage to achieve social aims than traditionally possible with one-off contracts.
Empowered to deliver change
Framework contractors are both encouraged and empowered to deliver the benefits from social clauses.
The increased level and resilience of turnover allows for adequate investment into delivering the objectives, while there is also greater incentive to commit through a promise of significant future workload and an ongoing client relationship.
In providing a degree of security of turnover to firms, it is possible for them to reciprocate by embracing the requirements and ‘gear-up’ to deliver them.
The costs of providing the social clauses can be spread over a much larger range of contracts and largely, if not completely, absorbed by the suppliers through increased profitability and growth. Firms that resist the new requirements and fail to adjust to the changing market lose market share.
In order to meet these objectives, we used the National Skills Academy for Construction’s Client Based Approach, which uses targets set within each individual contract, including:
- Creating a sustainable workforce trained and developed in the skills needed to deliver construction projects, with onsite training in techniques and trades that are in high demand in construction.
- Creating apprenticeship, employment and skills opportunities, improving the skills of the local workforce and benefiting the local economy.
- Helping to create a trained local workforce encouraging companies to move into the area.
- Creating lasting employment opportunities and more sustainable communities.
- Providing opportunities to place local students (14-19-year-olds) on work experience encouraging them to seek employment in construction.
In 2013, Cornwall Council was the first local authority in the South-west to be awarded National Skills Academy Status for Construction for its commitment to working with contractors to create apprenticeships, training and work placement opportunities for local people.
Laurence Jenkin is capital works delivery framework manager for Cornwall Council