Formed in 2008 as a not-for-profit procurement service for the country's 32 local authorities, Scotland Excel has been focused on guiding 'cost-efficient' efforts towards carbon neutrality long before the introduction of net zero targets, reveals Anthony Harrington

SCOTLAND’S central and local government sectors were focused on improving their carbon footprint long before it became fashionable. ESG or environmental, social and governance considerations, have long been a key part of central and local government procurement in this country.

As such, environmental impact has been a continual focus, though in the early years it had more to do with reducing waste and encouraging reuse and recycling. 

However, as Hugh Carr, Head of Strategic Procurement at Scotland Excel, which is the national centre for procurement expertise in the local government sector, notes this sharpened into a focus on the implications for councils’ carbon footprint a good few years back. 

HeraldScotland:

Scotland Excel was set up in 2008, as a direct result of the McClelland review of local government spending. From the outset, it focused on improving procurement efficiencies on multiple fronts, particularly with respect to sustainability.

“We are a very democratic body. We are a not-for-profit shared service for local government. We are governed by a joint committee, and we are funded by all 32 councils, each of which has a minimum of one council member on the joint committee,” he explains.  

The joint committee meets twice a year and is the main decision body for setting Scotland Excel’s budget and for reviewing appointments and progress. However, an executive sub-committee of thirteen councillors meets monthly and approves the organisation’s contract award recommendations. 

“This truly is democracy in action. All the executive sub-committee members are elected councillors, responsible to the public that elected them, and the committee represents the full range of Scottish councils, small, medium and large,” Carr comments. 

“At the heart of everything we do is a firm focus on ensuring that council taxpayers get the maximum benefit they can from their taxes. To achieve this we have to balance economic efficiency along with ESG considerations,” he says.

“Ultimately, one of the challenges we face is that there is a high degree of interest on social value, on ensuring that we are saving money for the public purse. We try to develop our business so that all the value criteria are taken into account and are not compromised,” he comments.

From the start, Scotland Excel has been procuring framework contracts for councils across a whole range of activities, from education to construction and social care. “We are less about procuring individual pieces of work for individual councils, and much more about working with a number of councils to understand their common requirements going forward,” Carr says. 

The idea is always to try to explore collaborative working across a number of councils so that procurement can be done at scale, with Scotland Excel putting together whatever critical mass of councils may be required to achieve an efficient, cost-effective solution.

“The metrics that we use to judge the effectiveness of our procurement policies show that we return around £5 back to councils in amounts of money saved for every £1 that it costs to fund Scotland Excel,” he adds. 

Carr notes that it is more difficult to come up with a similarly rigorous metric to show the impact of the organisation’s procurement policies and initiatives on the carbon footprint of Scotland’s councils. It is obvious that Scotland Excel’s approach is having a beneficial effect in helping councils to lower their environmental impact, but work is on-going to quantify the data. 

“Interestingly, devising a really good, all-embracing, carbon mitigation metric is a challenge right across the public sector. I sit on the Scottish Government’s strategy and objectives workstream and a key focus for us is looking at how best to measure carbon reduction. This is very much a work in progress, and we support the Scottish Government in whatever best practices have emerged so far in relation to measuring environmental impact,” he comments.

For many years, Scotland Excel has embedded requirements in its tenders that seek to capture how environmentally sustainable a potential supplier’s business practices are. 

“For example, we ask them what kinds of vehicles they use and how efficient their processes are. We want to take that a stage further. We currently have some 75 framework agreements in place, ranging from the supply of educational materials to construction, waste services and food provision. All of these areas have different consequences and outcomes on environmental impact and we look to work with suppliers to see what can be done to mitigate that impact,” he comments.

Carr cites the organisation’s food procurement policies as an example of how this works in practice. Scottish councils spend around £65 million a year on food contracts. Recent climate change debates have highlighted the adverse impact of food miles, ie, the distance food has to be transported from the grower to the end-user, as a contributor to carbon emissions. 

So reducing food miles is a key way of lowering the carbon footprint associated with meeting the food requirements of councils. One way in which Scotland Excel does this is to ensure that local small to medium-sized businesses have the opportunity to bid for food provision contracts. 

This is not an easy requirement to fulfil, as it is obviously more efficient, in cash terms, to buy a large number of product lines from one large supplier, than it is to buy a few product lines from each of a multitude of small suppliers. Bulk purchase discounts are hard to argue against. 

However, this dilemma can be overcome by giving small suppliers the chance to collaborate with a larger supplier who, in turn, becomes responsible for the delivery of the goods to councils. 

“In this way, we are able to cut down on food miles, by sourcing from a multitude of local suppliers, while still maximising delivery and purchase efficiencies. SMEs can bid to supply just one council – or all 32. You don’t get more points on a tender for supplying four councils rather than just one. So that brings the opportunity to funnel a percentage of that big spend that councils have, to local SMEs, without over-complicating the supply and delivery side. 

“As a result, about 70 percent of our suppliers are SMEs. This is all about developing a skilled procurement policy that balances multiple value criteria,” Carr comments. 

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New strategies ensure less waste in council resources and budgets

SCOTLAND’S public sector has been focused on mitigating its impact on the environment for more than a decade, and that approach has sharpened considerably over the last few years.

Scotland Excel's Hugh Carr points out that with Scotland building a green recovery from the pandemic, the country’s councils are currently  being asked to do even more to help in the drive towards net zero. 

HeraldScotland:

“The contracts we have been putting in place for the past decade and longer have been part of the local government sector’s climate response journey,” he comments. 

“We’ve undoubtedly learned a lot over this time. We have improved and refined our frameworks and now we are stepping up to do even more to support councils in the green recovery and in their climate emergency responses.”

This support from Scotland Excel has manifested itself across a range of activities and innovations, such as the organisation helping councils recycle their waste. “We also look for sourcing strategies that result in more sustainable supply chains and that produce less waste,” Carr says. Reuse is also a fundamental consideration during the procurement process.

On reducing transport emissions, Scotland Excel works to bring more local suppliers into framework contracts, thus reducing transport miles. 

“We will soon be helping councils to source electric vehicle charging infrastructure,” Carr notes.

In construction, the organisation helps councils and housing associations to commission new build projects that result in energy-efficient homes. 

It also helps councils and housing associations to commission a wide range of energy efficiency contractors, helping to improve the current housing stock. By focusing on more sustainable construction methods, Scotland Excel helps councils to choose more sustainable construction methods. 

It helps councils to take account of and to mitigate the life cycle impact of construction projects, both in terms of materials used, waste generated and the general impact of the project on the environment.

Carr concluded: “Scotland Excel is committed to net zero and has asked suppliers to deliver environmental mitigations and climate benefits in its contracts since its inception. On the run up to COP26 it’s important to highlight not only our own environmental work but that of our members and our 1000 plus suppliers and that’s why we’re running our Supporting Scotland's Green Recovery campaign. 

Follow it on the Scotland Excel website at www.scotland-excel.org.uk, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and get involved using  #Supporting Scotlands GreenRecovery

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