The planned refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster, expected to cost between £3.5 and £5.7bn, will include opportunities for social enterprises ©123RF
The planned refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster, expected to cost between £3.5 and £5.7bn, will include opportunities for social enterprises ©123RF

‘We think of social enterprises first when tendering,’ says Parliament’s head buyer

The head of procurement at the Houses of Parliament says her team ring fences low-level spend for social enterprises and actively encourages them to apply for relevant tenders. 

Veronica Daly, director of Parliamentary procurement and commercial services, said she would be in charge of procurement for the planned refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster, expected to cost between £3.5 and £5.7bn, and that the vast project would include opportunities for social enterprises.  

Speaking generally she said: “We flag up any contracts that we think would be particularly suitable for social enterprises.

“Recently, I noticed that we’re going out for a contract for signage. I know there’s a good social enterprise for signage, so right away I said to my team, ‘Get in touch with people that do signage in the social enterprise market, make sure they know to bid for this contract’.”

Social enterprises are businesses that have a social or environmental mission as part of their business model.

Daly, who was speaking at the Social Value Summit at the Institute of Engineering and Technology in London yesterday, said her department spends £300m annually on “business as usual contracts” including cleaning, catering and security. As Parliament is constitutionally separate from government, Daly said she has more scope to work with social enterprises than ministerial departments.

“We actually ring fence contracts that are under a certain value. So where we would normally take quotes, we ring fence them just for social enterprises,” she said. 

Developing a sustainability policy, and putting it at the heart of procurement, was also a “really big thing” for the department. The policy covers environmental, social and economic sustainability and is “part of our specification of requirements, so people that do business for us know that we also want these objectives to be met,” she said. 

Daly said her team also puts emphasis during the selection process on the diversity of a bidder’s own supply chain, the training they give to their employees and community benefits. “I think because we’ve taken this seriously and we’ve got a policy about it, it has fed down to our supply chain,” she said.

“People who are now bidding for our work know [what’s] important to us and they will include it in their bids, and that’s really positive to us because we know that we’re not only changing the way we do business within Parliament. People outside are recognising – through what we’re doing – what’s important to us.”

However, Daly said sourcing from social enterprises was not without its challenges, especially in the public sector where “you’ve got to justify absolutely everything that you do… and if we get something wrong in the procurement process we’re taken to court for it”.

Speaking to leaders of social businesses, she said: “It’s not enough to come to the public sector and to bid for work because you do good. There’s a lot of us that think that’s great, that you really do good, but we’ve got to justify to our finance directors and our boards about why we should do business with social enterprises.”

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