2021 has been a year like no other in public sector procurement. In many ways, it has also been a year defined by the events of the past. Since its publication at the end of 2020, conversation at the start of the year was dominated by the “Transforming Public Procurement” Green Paper. That Green Paper’s origin lies in the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union back in 2016.
While the benefits of Brexit continue to be debated, there is no doubt that leaving the EU opened the opportunity for the UK to set its own direction on procurement. This started a conversation about how we can use procurement in new ways to achieve the aims of the government – with the Green Paper being a pivotal moment in laying out the vision for that.
This was then followed up by the Procurement Policy Note (PPN) published this summer, which provided clearer guidance on how public sector organisations can embed social value criteria in procurement processes. Government can create meaningful demand, and 2021 was a year when that was translated into a force for future positive change.
Both the Green Paper and the PPN are major steps in enabling procurement to take a more active role in supporting government policy across a range of crucial areas – from levelling up, to apprenticeships, to the net zero agenda. This creates a hugely exciting opportunity for public sector professionals to be at the heart of change.
Nowhere is this more significant than decarbonisation and the push towards net zero. COP26 returned the climate conversation to the top of the agenda in 2021. Yet it became clear from the conference that much of the success, or otherwise, of keeping the planet to under 2 degrees of warming will be determined by systemic decarbonisation across all sectors of the economy.
Government procurement has the potential to be one of the biggest triggers of this change. Ensuring that only companies with net zero commitments can bid for work worth more than £5 million is a bold move that will catalyse larger organisations into action, and others into innovation mode. But it may well be the broader ability to add net zero as well as other social value metrics to evaluation criteria that will encourage firms across the economy to move in the right direction.
There is also another way that the events of the past are shaping procurement’s future. The Covid-19 pandemic thrust government, the NHS, and local authorities into working more closely on procurement than they have in several decades. Many have seen the benefits of this and are now looking for ways to make joined-up thinking and working the norm in the public sector.
A more integrated approach to procurement across the public sector offers serious potential to both achieve greater value for the taxpayer but also to use the combined buying power of the public sector to drive the social change we want to see.
As we move into the new year it feels like 2021 was a pivotal year for public sector procurement, one where it stopped looking backwards at the pandemic and made the big decisions that will allow the sector to face the future with confidence as the 2020s progress.
To learn more about how the government and the public sector may build on the successes of procurement in 2021 when moving into the future - Click here