Scotland's journey of achieving sustainable procurement outcomes 2002-2022: independent review

An independent review that looks back over the past twenty years of sustainable public procurement in Scotland and other parts of the UK. The findings showcase how the progressive approach to sustainable procurement in Scotland has achieved jobs, training and other positive outcomes.

Chapter 1: Introduction and Methodology

The public sector in Scotland has been using sustainable public procurement to achieve wider social, economic and climate outcomes for nearly two decades. Sustainable procurement outcomes in Scotland are defined as encompassing improvements to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of a community.

Community benefits have long been viewed as a mechanism through which public procurement can contribute to a range of national and local outcomes relating to employability, skills and tackling inequalities of underrepresented groups. The inclusion of community benefit[2] requirements in public contracts are defined as a contractual requirement imposed by a public body to provide training and recruitment, availability of sub-contracting opportunities or which is otherwise intended to improve the overall wellbeing of the authority's area, additional to the main purpose of the contract in which the requirement is included.

This independent research project was commissioned by the Scottish Government in December 2021 and undertaken by Harkins Research & Consultancy Ltd. The research compares community benefits and other sustainable procurement outcomes and practice achieved in the public sector in Scotland, against comparable models in other parts of the UK. The aim is to provide research findings that can be used to promote what Scotland is currently doing well and identify where there is scope to further develop our approaches to achieving and reporting on the wider positive economic, social and environmental impacts of public procurement in Scotland.

Research objectives

  • To determine what good sustainable procurement practice looks like across each part of the UK, the degree to which it is being achieved and to provide direction on how achieving positive outcomes can be further promoted and shared.
  • To assess the strength of Scottish procurement policy and legislation with respect to facilitating and driving wider economic, social and environmental benefits against the strength of equivalent procurement policy and legislation in other parts of the UK.
  • To assess related tools and guidance in Scotland and in other parts of the UK.
  • To identify and describe a range of historic, new and emerging examples of community benefits and other sustainable procurement outcomes achieved in Scotland.
  • To identify and describe similar outcomes achieved in the rest of the UK.
  • To critique the success of the approaches being taken and to draw out a series of success factors and lessons learned to date.


The project involved a literature review and qualitative research with key stakeholders working in procurement across the UK.

Literature review

The literature review involved an online search of policy, legislation, and research across the UK in relation to public procurement to chart the progress of the journey of achieving sustainable procurement outcomes and highlight the key enablers and turning points. Given the broad scope of procurement-related literature, the aim was to ensure the review produced a summary timeline of key documents that would describe the evolvement of sustainable procurement within the UK. The review only focused on UK literature from 2002 onwards to allow for a twenty-year review.

As a starting point, the Scottish Government provided a list of key documents to review which included policy documents, legislation and key industry research. A snowballing approach was applied so that documents were scanned for other documents of interest while ensuring the focus of the review was not compromised. Respondents were also asked for any key documents/literature of interest that they felt were critical to documenting the evolvement of sustainable procurement within the UK. The key search terms used were 'sustainable procurement', 'community benefits', and 'sustainable outcomes'. The research mainly focused on policy and legislation, while highlighting any key research projects that were felt to be instrumental to the journey of achieving sustainable procurement outcomes.

Qualitative research

The qualitative research consisted of virtual in-depth interviews, paired in-depth interviews and a mini focus group with a range of individuals working in procurement primarily in Scotland, but with representation from the other nations in the UK. A total of 43 respondents were included in the research against an initial target of approximately 30, in order to include a wide range of participants working in different aspects of the procurement practice across the UK. Respondent details are provided below.

To summarise, the sample included 15 respondents from local and national government, 17 from other public bodies, 8 wider stakeholders and 3 suppliers with the majority being from Scotland (n = 33). Informed consent was gained from all respondents and the topic guide used for the research is included in Appendix 1.

Type of respondents:

  • Local and national government (15)
  • Other public body (17)
  • Wider stakeholders (8)
  • Businesses (3)

Region in which respondents were interviewed:

  • Scotland (33)
  • England (4)
  • Wales (5)
  • Northern Ireland (1)

Methodology used:

  • Individual in-depth interviews (32)
  • Paired in-depth interviews (8)
  • Mini focus group (1, 3 participants)

A convenience sampling approach was used for the research (i.e., a non-probability sample in which respondents are chosen due to their availability to participate) which was determined in collaboration with the Scottish Government. Attempts were made to include different types of stakeholders working across the UK. The Scottish Government provided an initial sample of respondents due to their knowledge of, and involvement in, sustainable procurement and then a snowball approach was implemented where respondents were asked for other key contacts to include in the research. Engagement in the research from outwith Scotland was more challenging to secure. Procurement departments were identified in local authorities across the UK and emails and phone calls were made to identify individuals and secure interviews. LinkedIn was also used as a source of contacts.

The interviews and focus group were recorded with permission from the respondents and were then transcribed. The qualitative data was analysed thematically by means of an analysis framework created in Microsoft Excel which grouped the data by key theme and respondent type including quotations that helped to illuminate the key results.

Limitations of the research

The following limitations to the research should be borne in mind when interpreting the results. Although various attempts were made to include a more balanced sample of respondents across the UK, most of the sample (33 of 43 participants) were from Scotland. This has obvious implications in terms of awareness of practice and thus opinions of best practice. The nature of the sample also limits the strength of the arguments made in relation to Scotland's position as compared with other parts of the UK regarding sustainable procurement. The reference to benchmarking, in retrospect, may have deterred respondents from outside of Scotland from taking part. Attempts were made to mitigate this by highlighting the intention to share best practice and broaden key learning.

It should also be noted that given the huge scope of the sustainable procurement agenda, and the resource and time available for the research, the literature review was focused on producing a summary timeline of key policy, research and legislation. The research team remained in continuous contact with the project advisory group to ensure ongoing challenges were addressed and that the limitations of the research were recognised throughout.

Structure of report

Chapters 2 and 3 focus on the literature review followed by benchmarking across the UK. Chapter 4 includes a detailed analysis of perceptions of what good looks like, while Chapter 5 outlines barriers and challenges in relation to sustainable procurement. Chapter 6 includes the discussion and recommendations. Good practice case studies from the qualitative research and from the literature review are included in Appendix 2 and Appendix 3, in addition to the topic guide used for the research.



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