£175 billion a year – almost £3,000 for every person in the UK. If a service is designed and delivered by people on a public body’s payroll, there are assurances about how equality considerations are built in to the process. If a service is designed and delivered by people who are on the payroll of a company paid by the public body, why shouldn’t there be the same assurances?
UK public sector duty and EU law are mutually supportive. Some UK public bodies are putting this into practice. A variety of frameworks are being used. Companies are working within these requirements. But it’s not consistent.
A single set of pre-qualification questions (PQQs) and contract terms to be applied to any procurement process; The minimum standard businesses contracting with the public sector should be required to meet; Road-tested with a small number of businesses and business organisations.
“A standard framework would make life easier, and I’m sure it would be possible to do…” Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, Barclays “It would be much easier if there was a standard framework, and we could explain our diversity response once, as a whole business.” Lindsey Turnbull, Siemens Traffic Control
“…it needs to be practically based and not over- legalistic.” Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, Barclays “….its effect [must be] to simplify the process and [to work] in terms of practical on-the-ground application.” Tom Moran, CBI “There’s a danger that you make it too complicated.” Tim Fenn, Oakwood Builders
“…incorporate the more difficult question that separates those companies who are really doing something from those who know what to say.” Sam Mercer, Business in the Community “…provide businesses with an opportunity not just to demonstrate that they’ve grasped the basics, but to show off innovative practice.” Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, Barclays
Took what people said about the EDF draft, and their more general comments; Set it alongside the law and current practice, and also past knowledge and experience; Used combination of these to develop solutions.
1. There should be a concerted effort by the OGC, the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR) and the Government Equalities Office, working with business organisations, equality organisations, and those representing procurers and public bodies, to establish a standard equality-related framework that everyone uses.
While each has been doing something, the OGC, BERR and the GEO do not appear to have acted together to promote a consistent approach. Joined-up leadership from Government is required to make clear what is permitted and to make the process as easy as possible – and to get everyone taking the same approach. A common approach (if it’s the right one) will reduce bureaucracy and increase the effectiveness of the public sector duty.
2. The existence of a standard equality-related framework should not prevent different weight being given to the PQQ answers or to the importance of equality terms in the individual contract, if, for example, a procurement officer had concluded from an equality impact assessment that the subject matter of the contract offered little scope for the promotion of equality and good relations or elimination of unlawful discrimination.
Where it really matters that equality was built into the contract, the PQQ answers will matter more, and the contract terms will be built into the contract. This should enable the relevance test to be met, by ensuring that each contract is individually considered, without losing the benefit of the standard framework. It would mean that a contract to supply meals on wheels and a contract to supply paperclips would be treated differently and appropriately.
3. The PQQs should include some open questions to give those companies that go beyond mere compliance to promote equality, diversity and inclusion an opportunity to demonstrate this. Because... ◦ This would reward companies who do more than is legally required of them, and help spread good equality practice. Otherwise, as Kirsten pointed out in her interview, mere compliance would become the norm.
4. The PQQs and contract terms should be drafted in plain English and not assume a familiarity with legal terms, the contents of legislation or equality jargon. Because... ◦ It all needs to be spelt out for companies that aren’t as familiar with the names of Acts or the jargon. After all, if a company is only having to put together the answers once, longer questions aren’t necessarily bad, provided the length is because they are offering information about how to answer.
5. The PQQs and contract terms should be sufficiently detailed to enable companies to understand exactly what will be involved in carrying out the equality aspects of the contract, e.g. what training should be provided to staff, what should be done to communicate equality standards to suppliers.
The focus should be on spelling out the practical steps needed to meet the requirements of the PQQs and contract terms. ◦ Key performance indicators should be developed - which may not be the obvious ones, e.g. staff turnover may be more important than crude monitoring. ◦ KPIs should take account of issues of geography – so you don’t ask a national company about all its staff if only a small number are working locally on the particular contract.
6. While still promoting equality, contract terms should not require companies to act extraordinarily differently from the majority of businesses of their size. Because... ◦ There should be proportionality in relation to what is expected of different sizes of company, and companies should be assessed on their performance on equality in the round.
7. The demands that are placed on businesses on equality matters should be set alongside those that relate to other social issues such as environmental issues and skills training. Because… ◦ overall monitoring, reporting and training requirements must be reasonable in the context of the contract as a whole, so that companies do not spend a disproportionate amount of time on these processes compared with actually delivering the subject of the contract.
8. When implemented, the PQQs and contract terms should be underpinned by practical guidance and explanation, and a support service for businesses, especially those seeking their first few public sector contracts and completing the PQQs/grasping the implications of the contract terms for the first time. Because… ◦ This would help small businesses to compete against larger companies with a dedicated human resources/contracting function.
9. Staff with responsibility for procurement processes should be trained and supported in relation to equality and other social issues; in particular how to: ◦ carry out an equality impact assessment and translate it into a scoring system for a particular contract; ◦ be fair in assessing evidence, so they can work out whether a business has good equality practices, not just well-drafted policies; and ◦ work collaboratively with contractors to ensure that equality considerations are not forgotten immediately the contract is signed.
10. Rather than a separate equality kitemark for businesses, consideration should be given to encouraging procurers and companies themselves to place more emphasis on the equality and diversity aspects of the Investors in People (IiP) standard, and to use these as part of the evidence supplied under the PQQs.
IiP has tailored its framework to provide a tool for helping organisations understand the wider benefits from taking the issue of equality and diversity seriously; Using this existing framework would achieve much the same as an equality kitemark but avoid the need for yet another set of standards, team of assessors and expense to business; IiP is recognised and understood by a wide range of businesses of all sizes and they see wider benefits in achieving the standards.
11.The Government should seize the opportunity offered by the Equality Bill to provide clarification of the relationship between procurement and equality. Because... ◦ Although all of this could be achieved now within the existing law, there is still considerable confusion. The Equality Bill could make what is permitted/required explicit, in the context of the single public sector duty.