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Inclusive growth and the power of procurement: Scotland Excel conference 2020

Inclusive growth and the power of procurement: Scotland Excel conference 2020

Scotland Excel gather the experts to discuss how collaboration can ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared fairly across communities

Scotland Excel’s conferences have changed quite a bit since they began 11 years ago. 

“When Scotland Excel was first set up it was in response to the John McClelland report,” says Julie Welsh, director of Scotland Excel. 

“So, at that point in time, our conferences were all about building strong procurement foundations – it was all about the basics.” 

As Scotland’s centre for procurement expertise for local government, Scotland Excel has been at the forefront of developing a strategic and joined-up approach for councils to secure cost-effective and high-quality contracts since 2009. 

At first, the annual conferences focused on those priorities, with a strong emphasis on sharing the best practice in procurement. As well as providing networking opportunities, the conferences provided an opportunity for local government procurement delegates to build their professional knowledge and hear about the latest thinking in public procurement. 

“But over the years the conference has grown, in the same way as our role has grown and the sector has changed,” Welsh says. 

With the Scottish Government continuing to develop an economic strategy that aims to put human wellbeing at its heart, there is an ever-growing awareness of the role that procurement can play in supporting communities and driving outcomes of social value. 

The central theme of Scotland Excel’s 2020 conference was inclusive growth. Over the course of the two-day event in Glasgow, for the first time local  government procurement experts      were joined by colleagues in local economic development, housing and the third sector to explore how working together can ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared fairly across communities. 

“Procurement is only one driver of economic growth,” Welsh said in her opening remarks. 

“But to truly make a difference, we recognise that collaboration across all disciplines is needed.” 

Starting with the big picture, the keynote speaker on day one of the conference was the Scottish Government’s chief economist, Dr Gary Gillespie. 

Gillespie began by discussing the historic context from which the concept of inclusive growth was developed during the global economic downturn of the late 2000s. Inclusive growth, he said, can be defined as “growth that combines increased prosperity with greater equity; that creates opportunities for all and distributes the dividends of increased prosperity fairly”. 

Gillespie then outlined how the Scottish Government’s economic strategy evolved, first by promoting inclusive growth, which was then codified in the National Performance Framework in 2018, leading to the vision of a wellbeing economy set out by the First Minister last year. 

To truly make a difference, we recognise that collaboration across all disciplines is needed"

Highlighting the work of the WeGo (Wellbeing Economy Government) group that sprung from the 2017 collaboration between the governments of Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand, Gillespie laid out his thinking: 

“Inclusive growth is a place-based agenda,” he said, emphasising that the approach will naturally vary depending on the context, the needs of certain areas and different people. 

To sum up: “It’s about identifying priorities; it’s about working with partners; it’s about maximising the assets that you’ve got and doing what you can do locally.” 

North Ayrshire Council leader Joe Cullinane gave some compelling examples of the “community wealth building” approach in his area, whereby his council uses the economic levers at its disposal to create a “more resilient local economy, with more diverse businesses [and] more well-paid jobs for local people”.

Procurement is the first pillar of such an approach, Cullinane said. With initiatives such as the “procurement challenge” and “quick quote” schemes, councils can nurture a “dense network” of services, SMEs and community-owned projects to make a resilient and fair local economy. 

“I see North Ayrshire’s budget as a £215 million wellbeing budget,” Cullinane said at one point. 

I see North Ayrshire’s budget as a £215 million wellbeing budget”

Scottish Labour MSP Rhoda Grant delivered a powerful speech on day two of the conference on the steps every stakeholder needs to take to protect their supply chains from human trafficking and exploitation. 

“We need more support for victims as opposed to criminalising them,” Grant said. 

Other speakers included Cleland Sneddon, Chief Executive of South Lanarkshire Council, Professor Russel Griggs OBE and Neil Findlay of Social Bite.

The conference offered practical solutions through workshops delivered by Kissing with Confidence and Scotland Excel on topics such as effective engagement, maximising community benefits, and coaching and mentoring. 

“I’ve had feedback to say this is the best conference yet in terms of the speakers and the theme, and we were delighted to welcome so many new delegates from different backgrounds,” Welsh said after the conference closed. 

“The local government sector spends over £6 billion a year on goods and services and with that brings a tremendous amount of power and opportunity. 

“For many years now, saving money hasn’t been the main focus for the sector, although that’s still important, it’s been about what social value we can drive.” 

Whether by encouraging employers to pay the Real Living Wage – something 83 per cent of suppliers contracted through Scotland Excel now do – or by investigating ways of reducing environmental impact through supply chains, Scotland Excel is continuing to be a thought leader in the sector. 

Welsh said: “The sky’s the limit in terms of how we can support an economy that’s based on fairness and wellbeing.” 

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