Let’s be honest, for most people, public procurement probably isn’t the most engaging of topics!

The penultimate article in our summer ‘On Our Radar’ series looks at the topic of public procurement and how it can be used as a tool to advance equality.

But the reality is that the Welsh public sector spends around £5.5 billion a year on external goods and services. Currently around 55% of this stays in Wales, creating a large number of jobs in our communities.

Procurement and equality.

Procurement is a powerful lever that is within the competence of Welsh Government. We want to see it used to its full potential as a tool to help tackle poverty and advance equality in these communities.

When awarding work through procurement, the public sector can ask companies to meet certain requirements such as observance of the principles of non-discrimination and equality.

The current Welsh Government has shown commitment to using procurement to deliver on social issues in its Policy Statement on Procurement.

It could now go on step further and require employers funded by government to understand the gender issues within their organisation and take action to address them.

For example, procurement could be used to help Wales take steps towards becoming a Living Wage nation.

Wales has an issue with low pay and it’s also clear this is a gender issue. 270,000 jobs, mainly held by women, are classed as low paid and 25% of the Welsh workforce earn less than the Living Wage.

Welsh Government cannot set a minimum wage that is different from England. But there is more that could be done to encourage payment of the Living Wage as a minimum.

A good starting point should be to ensure that all public bodies pay at least the Living Wage.

European procurement rules make it difficult to require contractors to pay more than the UK National Minimum Wage.

But discussions in Scotland has seen a proactive approach to encourage the Living Wage, which could be replicated in Wales.

Procurement and Brexit.

The result of the EU Referendum and forthcoming Brexit could put a new spin on the situation.

Some of the rhetoric around the referendum focused on EU procurement rules and how these affected business in the UK.

Brexit would free the UK of these regulations and allow the Government to lay out their own rules for procuring work.

However, it’s the EU Directive on Procurement that currently outlines the requirement to consider social impacts as part of the procurement process.

There’s no guarantee that this requirement would be upheld as part of new rules, and with it, its potential to advance equality.

Moving Forward.

Wherever regulation around procurement comes from in the future, the Government should continue to show its commitment to delivering on social issues through procurement, and start using it to encourage employers to recognise and address gender inequalities in their organisation.

This would demonstrate the start of a Government-wide commitment to tackling inequality that could feed into a gender mainstreaming strategy. Read more in our next article…