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Community wealth building: progressive procurement for a more inclusive Scotland

Posted in: Blog.

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Roddy Stewart is the Team Leader of our Enterprise and Communities team, who help support organisations in the third sector, including  social enterprises, national and local charities and groups, working with local communities to reduce inequality and make Scotland a better place to live and work. Roddy has been with CEIS (Community Enterprise In Scotland) for over ten years and has extensive experience with public sector procurement.

For communities to thrive local resources and wealth must be retained. That’s why the progressive procurement of goods and services is one of the five pillars of community wealth building – by developing supply chains of local businesses, communities will reap the benefits of employment as well as helping to bolster the economy.

However for many organisations it can be challenging for them to buy goods and services locally, in part because of mindset and in part because it can be cheaper to buy from larger corporates. So what has created these difficulties? And how can organisations overcome these challenges? 

Why it can be difficult for organisations and people to buy locally

I think there are challenges with spending locally for individuals, community organisations and social enterprises. We have seen huge changes in all our buying habits over the last few years and this was accelerated by the pandemic.

Firstly we have all become used to buying online. Its quick, easy and often very cheap but on a local level this is hitting the hitting the high street hard. We’re seeing more empty units which in turn makes high street less attractive to visit. This creates a vicious circle with people more reluctant to go to high streets to shop which impacts on the remaining shops. The second factor which limits our ability to shop locally can be the absence of a good local option to purchase a products or services.

Overcoming the challenge of buying online

So what can we do? Well I think it’s about mindset. It is about setting yourself the challenge as an individual or an organisation and saying “Yes, I think it’s important that I spend locally” and the reasons for that are often obvious. Firstly, there’s a good environmental reason: we’re not transporting goods and services long distances.

Also, if we are purchasing goods and services locally, we are supporting the community within which we operate, and that is clearly important because we want those communities to thrive. We are seeing some policy evidence of that on a national level, with the Scottish Government advocating for community wealth building, which is all about building and strengthening the local economy and local purchasing as a key part of that.

But the challenge is for individuals and organisations to go out and do it and not take the easy option and to not always go for the cheapest option either. If we are buying things purely on price, then quite often it will be easier to purchase something online or from a large corporate rather than going local.

As individuals and businesses we need to think about the other factors involved. Is my purchase going to support the local economy? Is it going to be distributed locally? Is it going to secure local jobs? Is it going to support shareholders that are unconnected from the community in which we operate?

So, it’s thinking before you buy, setting your own values, and following through on those values

Overcoming the challenge of buying online

To overcome the desire to buy goods and services online or from organisations outside the local community, it’s important to make it an explicit policy within your organisation and to say, wherever possible, that you will purchase locally and seek out those suppliers.

There are barriers, but those barriers are often perceived rather than natural. For example, what do you do if somebody local doesn’t provide the service or offer the product that you want to purchase? Well, in that case, you may well be stuck, but it is about taking that little bit of time and effort and looking out for those suppliers.

Developing dense local supply chains

Developing dense local supply chains is critical to progressive procurement, and greatly beneficial to communities. I think we need to do three things to do this:

  1. We need to make purchasers and buyers aware of the importance of buying locally and cultivating partnerships.
  2. We need to be on the lookout to build partnerships over the longer term with suppliers that have the capability or capacity to fulfil your needs. It may be worth investing some time and effort in helping them so that you both mutually benefit from your own purchasing activity
  3. We also need to build the capacity of local suppliers through specialist support programs like Just Enterprise and the other work we do here at CEIS. 

How do we help develop dense local supply chains

CEIS have worked on both a local and large scale to develop local supply chains. From a large perspective, that means local authority areas rather than individual towns or communities. But we have worked in the past with several public sector organisations through programmes such as Ready for Business, encouraging them to use whatever levers they have to spend locally, and we have helped them to measure this spend.

We’ve also worked with a small number of private sector organisations to, again, encourage them to purchase from social enterprises in the communities where they’re delivering public services. This work goes back to the early days of community benefit clauses, which are a tool for public sector procurement which encourages large scale public and private sector contractors who are delivering public services to use their spending power for good. So, we work with organisations in that field to try and encourage them to do that.

But again, the flip side is about building the capacity of the sector to deliver those services, and providing a bridge, or a marketplace where these two sets of organisations can find each other.

I think community wealth building will be a driver for local purchasing  but there’s still some way to go in terms of embedding  awareness of the importance and the impact of buying locally and getting people to look beyond just price and convenience. In the end, by doing that, you know you’re supporting and investing in your community. You know you’re providing employment opportunities, skills development, and support for organisations and their medium-term sustainability so that they can thrive within their own communities.

Join us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram as we discuss community wealth building and our position on it over the rest of May.

Does your business or community need support? We can help. Get in touch with us today.

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