Public Procurement and Property

Public procurement and the voluntary sector

December 14, 2021 by No Comments | Category Guest Blog, Social Enterprises, suppliers, Third sector

We welcome a guest blog from Allan Young at SCVO (Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations) with reflections on their recent webinar examining public procurement and the voluntary sector. Nick Ford, Director of Scottish Procurement and Property, was one of the speakers at the event – demonstrating how we want to learn more, develop and be #OpenAndConnected.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown more than ever the invaluable role played by the voluntary sector in the delivery of vital public services. This has often been arranged through a procurement process and has involved positive partnership working with the public sector.

Alongside generating over £6bn in annual turnover and 100,000 jobs, the voluntary sector produces significant social, cultural and environmental benefits through its way of working with individuals and communities across Scotland. The return on investment is incredible and shows the sector to be a significant economic and social factor, helping local and national government to deliver many of its key outcomes.

It was very much in the spirit of cross-sector collaboration that we at SCVO organised a recent webinar on public procurement and the voluntary sector. We would like to thank Nick Ford (Scottish Government), Jennifer McKerrall (Scotland Excel) and Sean Duffy (the Wise Group) for their great contributions to the event and to everyone for attending.

There was significant agreement at the webinar on many issues, alongside a challenge from the voluntary sector to public sector bodies. The significant positive contribution of voluntary organisations to social and economic life through procurement was recognised, alongside a shared consensus on the importance of collaboration and supporting small grassroots organisations, looking beyond cost to the quality of a bid, rolling out good practice across departments, and ensuring voluntary sector organisations can access reduced supplier costs where possible.

The sector is also in broad agreement with the Scottish Government’s aim of using public procurement to address its climate obligations and deliver social and economic benefits, including the recent announcement on the real Living Wage. However, as the webinar highlighted, significant challenges remain to enabling the voluntary sector to deliver its full potential.

In amongst positive examples, trying to develop a collaborative approach in a competitive environment continues to be difficult and can ultimately hinder the quality of service delivered, as well as be a costly exercise for charities. The lack of contribution to core costs means the sector is severely constrained in its ability to build skills, capacity and capability to improve its services. If we are to truly transition away from just a focus on the cheapest bid, procurement and commissioning practice needs to prioritise the importance of facilitating staff and service investment.

We heard of some successful cross-sector partnerships, including the New Routes Public Social Partnership, and the articulation that a more collaborative approach would include the sharing of risk between contractor and awardee and access for all voluntary organisations to reduced supplier costs. Currently all nationally registered charities can sign up to the Scottish Government’s contract framework.

We very much welcomed the opportunity for cross-sector discussion on procurement and believe greater mutual understanding and working will not only deliver better public services, but also lead to increased attainment of Fair Work outcomes and greater voluntary sector sustainability. As we at SCVO continue to work with other voluntary sector partners and learn more from our members about their particular procurement experiences, we hope to continue constructive discussions with the Scottish Government and other public sector bodies.

Thank you very much, Allan at SCVO! New private businesses (< 5 years) and third sector organisations are invited to contribute to an online survey looking at the public procurement system in Scotland, and are also invited to partake in an online/telephone interview. The online survey is open until 21 December and can be completed here.

To find out more about Public Procurement in Scotland, please visit

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