Combatting climate change could also boost procurement skills

Much is happening on the climate change battle front, and the UK has pitched itself into the front line with wide ranging commitments to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, such as having all of our electricity to be ‘clean’ generated by 2035. This stance will attract worldwide attention with the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference heading for Glasgow in November.

Whatever the details of what emerges from COP26 construction will be central to the policy initiatives that will be adopted in coming years, both as a target for cutting emissions through its designs and in its on site activities and associated operations, and as an enabling industry whose skills will be needed to create new, sustainable infrastructure of many types.

Announcing its Net Zero Strategy in October, the government spelled out that sustainability will be a focus for all of its £292 Billion of annual spending. The government says it has so far mobilised £26 billion of capital investment for the green industrial revolution which, along with regulations, will support up to 190,000 jobs by 2025, and up to 440,000 jobs by 2030, and leverage up to £90 billion of private investment by 2030.

COP26 might well turn out to be a turning point, or it could result in only a lot of hot air. At least the UK is taking a lead in some areas. Currently there are a large number of sustainability related initiatives underway in the UK, overseen by a wide range of bodies, and the UK’s determination to be seen as a world leader in the battle took another step forward on the eve of the conference with news that the government is considering forming a new unit to oversee all of its sustainable procurement policy initiatives, a single unit for all sustainable procurement policy within government ‘to strengthen performance, coordination, and oversight’.

There will be a lot to oversee. For example, since 30 September new rules announced by the Cabinet Office in July stipulate that all firms bidding for government contracts worth more than £5 million a year must commit to achieving net zero by 2050. Carbon reduction plans have to be published by these bidders, setting out where an organisation’s emissions come from and the environmental management measures that are in place.

Published plans should confirm the supplier’s commitment to achieving net zero by 2050 and set out the environmental management measures that will be utilised during the performance of the contract. “Firms which fail to do so will be excluded from bidding for the contract,” the Cabinet Office promises.

The government intention is to embed net zero across government activity, with net zero taken into account during the procurement process, which it is hoped will lead to greener supply chains.

The government can point to measures like these to support its claim to be determined to leverage public procurement to support its net zero carbon ambitions. It promises to use its massive buying power to drive decarbonisation. It is also promised that training is to be developed to ensure public sector procurement professionals have the skills to grasp the new opportunities. If anything improves the performance of public sector procurement, it is surely to be welcomed.

Nick Barrett