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Can procurement power up Levelling Up?

18 Nov 2021

As part of our commitment to building partnerships between government, community and business we were delighted to host a seminar on Wednesday 17th November, where, Gavin Rice the Head of the Work and Welfare Policy Unit at the Centre for Social Justice gave an overview of a paper he has written on how government procurement could be a central tool to enable levelling up.

The meeting was chaired, by Kieran Breen our CEO and the participants were

Dorothy Francis MBE, CEO, Co-operative and social enterprise agency

Neetu Squire, Head of Community Development, Leicestershire Cares

Danny Myers, Asst Mayor (Employment and Economy), Leicester City Council

Neil Bayliss, Head of Procurement, Leicester City Council

Ian Bates, Policy and Representation Manager, East Midlands Chambers of Commerce

Edward Cartwright, Professor of Economics, De Montfort University.

Louise Jarvis, Regional Alliance Manager, Centre for Social Justice

Gavin shared that the government spends 290 billion pounds a year on procurement, which is five times the total MoD budget. As the UK has now left the EU, it is easier to factor “Social Value and Levelling Up” into tendering bids. Put simply if we increase the amount of tenders that are awarded to local firms in poorer areas, it will have a transformational impact on the local economy and jobs market.

All participants felt this was a very practical proposal that should cut across political divides. In a lively and far reaching discussion a number of points were raised.

Often the bureaucracy of applying for funding can be very off putting for SME’s, could government consider funding councils to increase their procurement teams so they could support SME coalitions bidding for funds as well as looking at how they might be able to reduce red tape

Ian Bates

When we talk about local we need to be even more granular, to ensure that for example if firms are committing to create apprenticeships, they are seeking to recruit young people from most disadvantaged post code areas in the city, we also need to make efforts to try and make money stay in the local economy and it may well be ensuring SME’s are included is a key part of that

Danny Myers

If you step back, you often see that government procurement is often costly and wasteful and needs reform

Edward Cartwright

Cuts to council budgets has meant we lack the staffing that might enable us to take more risks and act more creatively. There is a tendency to go with those big providers who you know will deliver

Neil Bayliss

We have been having conversations like this for 20 plus years, I can see with UK leaving EU, we now have an opportunity, but I am also really keen that we try and build a consensus around this so there is consistency and follow through, rather than it becomes a political ping pong

Dorothy Francis

Localism is a key ingredient of making this work. Government needs to talk with local councils and local councils need to seek to work in partnership with business and community, so it is grounded in the everyday realities of the places where people live and work

Kieran Breen

There is so much potential, skills and creativity across our local communities, if we could unlock government procurement, so it benefitted local communities it really would be the ultimate “win win” that delivers goods and services to government , local wealth creation and community development

Neetu Squire

Gavin’s main takeaways from the meeting were;

  • The need for granular/regional targeting
  • The importance of SME’s for keeping money in the local economy
  • Skill supply, a commitment to training up of workforce must be built into tender bids
  • Long term view, this is a huge area of government expenditure and it will take time to get it right and for changes to produce benefits.