Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, has gone on record on many occasions about the vital role sustainable procurement has in underpinning the well-being goals. Sophie blogs ahead of the Good Practice Exchange’s Sustainable Procurement webinar.

It is estimated that over the next decade, Welsh public services will spend over £60bn in procuring a range of goods, services and works. If this money was being spent to buy things and improve the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of people and communities in Wales – imagine what would that mean? Wales has a great opportunity now to think about how and where to spend that money in the interests of future generations.

Up until now, procurement is something that has been done in a certain way, often seen as a blocker rather than an enabler, a transactional rather than a transformational process. Tension remains between striving for the lowest cost rather than achieving wider benefits, with a perception that sustainable procurement can cost more at least in the short-term, even if it offers long-term savings.

As a world-leading, game-changing piece of legislation, the Well-being of Future Generations Act has the power to change the way we do things in Wales today, for the future. This is not just a nice thing to do, but a statutory obligation to ensure we are acting in the best interests of our future generations by improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. Crucially, all four aspects of well-being are seen as important as each other, and there are seven well-being goals that help public bodies maximise their contribution to the Act. Procurement has a vital part to play here.

So the spotlight is truly on Wales.

I believe there is a need for a much simpler, holistic and co-ordinated approach to what procurement can achieve, through a framework which offers clarity, not further confusion, and the Act provides this.

Stronger leadership is needed, from within every area of our public sector, and commitment in stepping up these efforts. Procurement is so often seen as one area, in its own silo, but if we are to do this properly our approach to procurement must consider the whole system, not just one area in isolation. Now is an opportunity to ensure procurement is fit for the future.

Public bodies now have a duty to think about the long-term; over 10 years ago the UK Sustainable Procurement Task Force showed that sustainable procurement, when seen as an organisational priority which questions the need to spend, cuts out waste, seeks innovative solutions and is delivered by well trained professionals will reduce rather than add to public spending in both the short and the long run.

We know saving costs in a time of continued austerity is still important. Austerity makes it even more important to seek different solutions, and reduce demand that achieve longer term benefits not just short term cost savings.

Solutions like:

  • procuring good quality local food, which can have a positive impact on health and support local businesses as well as reducing carbon footprint;
  • requiring the reuse and recycling of furniture or construction material; or
  • thinking of long term cost and carbon savings by procuring electric fleet or replacing lighting with LED bulbs.

In Preston public bodies have increased their spend with local organisations by 13.2% or £74.8 million (between 2012/13 and 2016/17) showing that you can support local economic development even during times of austerity. We have the infrastructure in Wales via our Public Services Boards to do the same.

We also have a duty to consider the unfair amount of debt and an empty bank of world resources that we are placing on future generations – at over 7 billion people we are depleting the Earth’s resources at rates that are not sustainable. At the heart of the Act is the idea of intergenerational equality – that future generations should not pay the price of our decisions today.

There are clearly pockets of good practice in Wales – the 21st century schools programme which is building the kind of schools Wales needs for the future, with low-carbon, resilient buildings and environment, as supporting the development of skills for the future. When they procured furniture for their new offices, Public Health Wales saved 41 tonnes of waste from landfill, and in total the project saved around 134 tonnes of CO2, enough to fill 804 double decker buses.

Caerphilly County Borough Council have trained their tenants as part of the process of learning about what makes a good quality home through their Quality Homes Standard showing that involving suppliers and end-users in the procurement process can be done. Swansea Community Energy Scheme increased employment of local people by developing a new model for procuring community benefits through renewable energy for council buildings, and encouraged the low-carbon vision of prosperity we are striving for. And by listening to the voices and views of their conscientious pupils, Cathays High School went on to buy Fairtrade school uniforms – a more ethical option that supports the well-being of our global communities.

Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Team’s Sustainable Procurement webinar on Wednesday 18 April, between 12-1.30pm will be an opportunity to hear from an expert panel and get involved by posing live questions to the panel. Helping to encourage a mind-set shift so public services can start to work differently to ensure that they make the most of the £60bn spent in Wales and help deliver the Wales we want.


This blog has been published by the Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office.