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Ask the Experts – Promoting skills through procurement

Sunday March 21st, 2010

By Peter Howarth, PASS Consultant

PASS Consultant Peter Howarth answers your queries on  promoting skills through public procurement

The leaders of my council have asked me to include provision for apprenticeships in some of the contracts I deal with. Can I do this?

Yes, it is possible to use contracts to deliver apprenticeships and other skills-based commitments. Care must be taken in how you frame skills and apprenticeships requirements in contracts. You should ensure that your authority is consistent with EU procurement rules and that including apprenticeships does not compromise value for money. To help you, there is a range of guidance and support available. There is also significant scope to explore opportunities to promote skills training and apprenticeships with suppliers on a voluntary basis outwith the formal procurement process.

This is such a clear central government priority that departments have committed to using procurement to support 20,000 apprenticeships over the next three years. Departments and their arm’s length management organisations (ALMOs) are already seeking opportunities across their procurement programmes to promote skills and apprenticeships with construction, facilities management and ICT suppliers.

How do I go about it?

Consideration should be given to the possibility of including skills training and apprenticeship requirements within your tender documentation right at the start of the process when setting out the specification, business case, and evaluation criteria.

Where skills training and apprenticeships are a core requirement, a clear value for money case should be identified, demonstrating the benefits to the public purse. This needs to be proportionate and relevant to the subject matter of the procurement. Contracting authorities will need to assess the opportunities for incorporating skills training and apprenticeships as core requirements on a case-by-case basis. You must always ensure that including such provisions does not discriminate against any potential supplier.

Alternatively, skills training and apprenticeships can be covered in contract conditions, rather than as part of the specification. If training or apprenticeships are part of the contract, it is important not to assess how or to what extent potential suppliers might comply with these contract conditions at either the selection or award stages.

It is also important, when working with suppliers, to engage them at an early stage, exploring what opportunities the contract or agreement can offer in terms of apprenticeships. If a contract has already been awarded, the contracting authority can work with suppliers on a voluntary basis to promote skills training and apprenticeships.

Don’t forget, however, to ensure these additional benefits are actually realised once the contract has been let.  

The benefits may include:

  • Meeting the wider strategic vision and objectives of your organisation
  • Improved productivity and capacity for innovation for both you and suppliers
  • Facilitating greater social justice and social mobility
  • A better motivated workforce and support for your suppliers
  • Opportunities for young and unemployed people in the community
  • Better value for money for the public purse (it is a misconception that additional sustainable benefits like this add cost)

Where can I find further information?

In 2009, the OGC and BIS published guidance – Promoting Skills through Public Procurement – which explains how public procurers can promote skills training and apprenticeships. More information on the guidance and support available is provided on www.bis.gov.uk/skillsprocurement. IDeA are also issuing a ‘How To’ guide, giving practitioners guidance on using procurement to deliver work and skills. These documents reflect the fact that skills training and apprenticeships has been identified as one of the three policy priorities to be delivered through public procurement, as set out in the Government’s Policy through Procurement Action Plan, published in January 2010.

The National Apprenticeships Service also offers a one-stop shop for advice on apprenticeship frameworks, and can point to examples of good practice. Jobcentre Plus can also offer advice on promoting skills and work opportunities. Ideally, any agreement with a supplier will involve, at an appropriate stage, a discussion with your local NAS and Jobcentre Plus regional account managers.

It might also be worth looking at examples of where skills and apprenticeships training have already been successfully promoted via procurement. Examples include the Building Schools for the Future programme; the Community Benefits in Public Procurement programme; Glasgow Housing Association; Dundee City Council; and the Olympic Delivery Authority.

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