27 August 2009
A UK public sector buyer and a supplier explain how supported employment puts the 's' in CSR, and makes good business sense
Public sector organisations in the UK are being encouraged to consider using 'supported employers' - companies that provide jobs for disabled people - to help satisfy CSR requirements.
Here we speak to two people involved with supported employment: a procurement professional from the Home Office, the government department for areas such as immigration, passports, drugs policy, counter-terrorism and police; and a head of sales for supplier Remploy, a supported business offering a range of products and services, from furniture making to CCTV operation.
Phil Cholewick,Major projects and strategic procurements lead, Home Office
The Home Office commercial directorate champions the use of supported businesses, third-sector suppliers and small to medium-sized enterprises. We are proud of the action we have taken to date in this area, and with the relationships that have subsequently been garnered.
In May this year, companies were invited to promote their service offerings to the Home Office collaborative commercial board. This is a group that includes the commercial directors from each of the Home Office business areas. The purpose of the event was to develop and encourage opportunities across the organisation by supporting the benefits that can be derived from working with these businesses, which include innovation, reliability, value for money and benefits to the wider community.
Remploy has been a valued and trusted provider of various goods and services to the Home Office for a number of years. The company recently won a Home Office Supplier Value Award for excellence in helping the organisation deliver value-added services.
There is an assumption that in order to accommodate companies such as Remploy, the clause under Article 19 of the public sector procurement directive, which allows organisations to restrict bidding on certain contracts to supported businesses, must be used. While this is indeed a viable sourcing solution, Remploy is able to compete on its own merits and recently won a multi-million pound tender with the Home Office in which the organisation competed against recognised global competitors through a full OJEU competitive process. After extensive scientific testing, Remploy's protective clothing products were found to be the best suited to meet the Home Office business need.
The procurement activity between the Home Office and Remploy has resulted in a plethora of advantages. While working in collaboration with a supported business helps fulfil corporate social responsibilities and bring wider benefits to society, Remploy was selected primarily for its ability, competency, and value for money. Remploy eradicates the notion of having to rely on being a supported business or third sector supplier to win business by tailoring its capabilities around the requirements of the department, and delivering competitive value for money.
Rod Turnbull,Head of government sales, Remploy
Remploy's role is to maximise job opportunities for disabled people. It does this by finding people jobs with mainstream employers, and employing 3,000 disabled people in its national network of 54 factories, operating through 10 businesses with annual sales of £120 million. In 2006, Remploy was challenged to grow sales significantly to ensure the long-term sustainability of the factories. Efforts were focused on the public sector, particularly in central government and local authorities, where it had not enjoyed a strong presence.
In the past six months, Remploy has worked with the ministerial task force, which brings together ministers and procurement heads of government departments in England, Scotland and Wales to give supported businesses the chance to explore opportunities to supply various goods and services. Although Remploy has been given a helping hand by senior politicians in making these introductions, we would be fooling ourselves if we thought we could expect business from any customers just because we employ disabled people.
Everyone rightly demands value, and we face the same challenges as any commercial enterprise in proving excellence in product and service, and in how we deal with environmental issues. That we can count on blue-chip organisations, such as Ford, Jaguar, EDS and Atos Origin, as repeat customers suggests we're getting it right. And we are steadily building business with the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence. But that doesn't mean we hold back from emphasising the social advantages of doing business with us in the context of customers' CSR agendas.
We are also encouraging public bodies to use the reserved contract provisions for supported businesses. The uptake has been slow so far, but is now accelerating. The Scottish Parliament was the first public body to award a reserved contract to Remploy, and the Welsh Assembly has now let three reserved frameworks. Buying Solutions has recently announced its intention to establish four reserved frameworks by the end of 2009, allowing more public bodies to engage with supported businesses.
Shaun McCarthy is director of Action Sustainability and chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012