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 6: Discussion and Recommendations

The current research sought to examine sustainable procurement across the UK, to identify the journey across the UK nations, establish what good looks like, identify best practice and lessons learned, and provide recommendations for the future of sustainable procurement.

A clear research finding is the success of Scotland's journey of achieving sustainable procurement outcomes, driven by a strong passion and commitment across all sectors. The Scottish Government, enabled by ministerial support, have directed much effort and resource to continually improve practice and outcomes. This has included reviews of practice, consultation with key stakeholders, and ongoing engagement within the sector. The ethos is one of collaboration and support, driven by an authentic desire to learn and do better, which has been central to the success of the journey of achieving sustainable procurement outcomes. Established networks were viewed as a critical success factor that enabled sharing of practice, reduced duplication of effort, and provided an opportunity to bring the different sectors involved in procurement together to maximise outcomes. It is also recognised that as Scotland is a smaller country, there is greater opportunity for key stakeholders within Scotland to come together and share ambitions and outcomes.

A key characteristic of sustainable procurement in Scotland is its holistic definition encompassing economic, social, and environmental outcomes that enable inclusive growth and a fair, ethical society. This over-arching definition was viewed to be fundamental to sustainable procurement in Scotland, rather than an over-reliance on economic benefit. The National Performance Framework provides a clear set of outcomes to aspire to, and to which all local priorities can be aligned. These were viewed as key enablers for sustainable procurement in Scotland that aligned with place consciousness and ensuring approaches are targeted to local need.

This holistic definition and the range of benefits to be considered is reflected in Scotland's approach of non-monetisation of community benefits. This approach recognises that the qualitative, far-reaching outcomes to be gained from community benefits cannot be neatly reduced to a figure. This approach is welcomed, as it allows for the full scope and nuance of benefits to be considered. Nevertheless, there were continuing reported challenges in the evaluation of contracts and the demonstration of outcomes that indicate a need for further activity in this area.

A key enabler for the Scottish Model of Procurement was the introduction of the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, described as a powerful piece of legislation that enables community benefits and social impact to be core to sustainable procurement. This was seen to set Scotland apart in terms of driving improved practice and behaviour. The Act has also been significant in terms of encouraging transparency, accountability and sharing of best practice, through the requirement for public bodies to publish their strategies and annual procurement reports.

The research indicated that Scotland has a long and effective history of supplier engagement and development, driven by a desire to support the local economy and maximise outcomes. This is evidenced by the Sustainable Procurement Tools, the ongoing provision of training and support, the Supplier Development Programme, and the Procurement Journey and Supplier Journey websites. Together, these create a strong framework and support for those delivering sustainable procurement outcomes. Across the other UK nations, this level of support being available to suppliers was hailed as best practice and an achievement to aspire to. This is a critical area to continue to deliver and develop, given the ever-evolving nature of procurement considerations (including the strengthened focus on measuring environmental impact).

The journey across the other UK nations has also moved forward significantly. There does not appear to have been as coordinated and consistent or prolonged a response as in Scotland. Scotland has greatly benefited from a top-level commitment and effective networks and collaboration enabling an integrated and strategic approach, which has not always been the case in the other UK nations. There is also variation in how sustainable procurement has been defined, and the emphasis placed on the triad of economic, social and environmental benefits. There have been successes including the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act whose implementation is supported by a commissioner, and the recent traction in England surrounding the Social Value Act including increased responsibilities among government departments.

An interesting area of the current research was consideration of the 'Preston Model' and how this has grown to be considered as Community Wealth Building. This concept has gained interest and traction, which is a positive in giving more prominence and attention to the sustainable procurement agenda. It also demonstrates the power of translating a complex ethos and commitment into a digestible model. The elements of the model are valuable to sustainable procurement outcomes and are already heavily embedded in the Scottish model of sustainable procurement. Such elements include a focused effort on strengthening the local economy through engagement and support of local suppliers, using spend analysis to drive activity and monitor progress, collaboration, and extending the scope of procurement to encompass strategic planning to effective contract management. It highlights the value of effectively sharing and communicating the core elements and benefits of procurement within a tangible model. This concept is reflected in the recommendations arising from the current research.

More recently, the UK Procurement Bill offers an opportunity to strengthen sustainable procurement within England in particular. There are various strands of the policy that will enable a coordinated approach leading to sustainable outcomes, although these activities are already successfully embedded within Scottish practice and enabled via current Scottish legislation. There is, however, a desire and commitment within Scotland to continually review and monitor the progress and implementation of the Procurement Bill to determine if Scotland could learn from any of its proposals and achievements.

At the heart of Scotland's journey of achieving sustainable procurement outcomes is an ethos of continuous improvement and addressing the barriers that exist to achieving outcomes. There were a range of challenges identified through the research that were said to add challenge and complexity to achieving integrated, sustainable outcomes. A significant barrier which is in fact reflective of the current economic climate is resource constraints (exacerbated by austerity), and the loss of Community Benefits Officers. A related issue was a perceived lack of procurement professionals, an issue the Scottish Government is attempting to address through their Procurement People of Tomorrow programme.

The holistic definition of procurement, and the balance between enabling tailored solutions and activity aligned with local priorities and ensuring consistency of practice was also highlighted. The extent to which public bodies should specify particular types of social impact within their contracts also generated a difference in opinion. These issues led to reported challenges in term of awareness, knowledge and expertise on the most effective ways of evaluating tenders and measuring, monitoring and demonstrating outcomes. The principle of non-monetisation of outcomes was generally supported, but there is a need to further explore this area to provide public bodies with guidance, support and training on how to measure and evaluate the nuance of the holistic nature of the benefits arising from social outcomes.

The most common definition of what good procurement looks like was integration of sustainable procurement within the entire contracting journey. Beginning with strategy development and needs conceptualisation, to tender development, contract award and management. Procurement being the "golden thread" rather than an afterthought was seen to result in the most beneficial, sustainable outcomes.

To conclude, Scotland is regarded by most respondents as a leader in the field of sustainable procurement which is due to the ongoing commitment and dedication amongst the Scottish Government and key stakeholders to continue raising standards and maximising outcomes. Given the success of Scotland's journey of achieving sustainable procurement outcomes and the benefits to be gained by raising the profile of the Scottish Model of Procurement, it is strongly recommended that the model is subject to a strategic marketing and communications plan to raise its profile. The model could be considered as a case study in itself which has never been given the prominence it deserves in terms of its potential impact of sharing and influencing practice.


The recommendations from the research are outlined below, linked to key stakeholder group.

Scottish Government

  • Resource is directed towards activity to market The Scottish Model of Sustainable Procurement, to share best practice and increase awareness of Scotland's role as a leader in this space.

Suggestions include:

  • Translating the model to contain a vision, purpose, goals and objectives.
  • Creating a brand and identity for the model that is translatable to a range of audiences.
  • Investing in a communications strategy to share the results of the model widely.
  • Undertaking a promotional campaign for the model across the UK to both procurement professionals and those working outside the sector.
  • Work is undertaken to promote the National Performance Framework across the Scottish public sector. This includes increasing understanding and awareness of how outcomes can be aligned to this framework.
  • A specific engagement exercise is undertaken with public bodies to further explore the challenges faced in evaluating tenders and the benefit of particular social impact proposals.
  • Future consideration is given to the most effective ways that public bodies can evaluate social impact and demonstrate outcomes so that guidance can be provided to public bodies within tender documents, including further explaining the stance and rationale behind the preference for non-monetisation.
  • Work is undertaken to continue to address the lack of procurement professionals within the sector, including a consultation exercise with public bodies to help refine the Procurement People of Tomorrow programme.
  • The ongoing programme of training and support provided to public bodies continues, to further enable and reinforce effective use of the Sustainable Procurement Tools, and increase awareness, understanding and confidence in achieving sustainable outcomes. Echoing the McClelland report, annual training for procurement professionals is recommended.
  • Consideration is given to establishing a Sustainable Procurement Champions Network to allow for valued networking opportunities.
  • Work is undertaken to promote the guidance and templates available to support completion of the annual procurement reports, given the apparent lack of awareness of the existing tools and the request for an annual reporting template to be shared.
  • An ongoing review of the Procurement Bill is undertaken to ensure there is no key learning that is of benefit.
  • Further consideration is given to the Future Generations Act in Wales, to assess any transferable learning including the role of a commissioner to act as a "guardian" for the Scottish Model of Sustainable Procurement.
  • A best practice library of worked examples of the tools are included on the Sustainable Procurement Tools platform.

Public bodies

  • Consideration is given to further embedding procurement in all stages of the journey and establishing mechanisms for procurement to be involved at the earliest possible stage when needs and strategies are being established to maximise outcomes.
  • Further integration is undertaken within public bodies, and consideration is given to Sustainable Procurement Forums as a means of ensuring a multi-stakeholder approach to measuring procurement outcomes.
  • An engagement/consultation exercise is undertaken with the supplier community, to enable the benefits that can be reaped from innovative approaches and the specific expertise that the market can bring to maximising sustainable procurement outcomes.
  • Consideration is given to the introduction of a NPF Champion within each public body with a remit of aligning procurement to the NPF.

All stakeholders

  • Continual efforts are made to engage with fellow stakeholders across the UK to share best practice and key learning, and to review any emerging practice, policy or legislation of note.
  • Better resourcing of procurement teams is considered to increase their capacity for involvement in all stages of procurement to yield consistency and generate demonstrable outcomes.
  • A whole organisation approach to procurement is applied to enable integration and pulled resources to ensure that procurement plays a role in delivering the wider local and national priorities.



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