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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.


Procurement: “inconsistency, bureaucracy, and inflexibility still creating challenges for third sector” 

The other week the Economy and Fair Work Committee published the findings of its enquiry into the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, looking at the impact the Act has had over the last decade. The Committee found that while the Act has had a positive impact on increasing transparency of procurement processes, “inconsistency, bureaucracy, and inflexibility are still creating challenges for small businesses and third sector organisations looking to participate in public procurement.”   

The Committee’s findings won’t come as a surprise to anyone in the sector, whether they regularly bid for contracts or are outside the procurement process peering in. Procurement is notoriously complex, with very specific financial and bureaucratic procedures that have no doubt increased the grey hair count in the sector’s finance teams.

Many organisations decide that the procurement route is simply not for them. But how much more money might flow into the sector via procurement if more organisations could get involved?

As part of SCVO’s own submission to the Committee we looked at a range of reports about the experiences of voluntary sector organisations wanting to engage in public sector contracts and the procurement process. 

The key themes that emerged from both public sector reviews and voluntary sector surveys chime strongly with the Committee’s summary: 

  • Good policies are in place, but there is still a disconnect between policy and practice on the ground. 
  • More still needs to be done to encourage and facilitate participation of third sector organisations in procurement. 
  • There is a disparity between experiences of public sector procurers and third sector suppliers/providers – procurers believe significant positive changes to processes have been made while third sector providers still report experiencing difficulties. 
  • Significant barriers to third sector organisations’ participation in procurement work remain – the most frequently cited barriers are the complexity of procurement processes, short term contracts, poor terms and conditions, and a lack of engagement with contracting authorities despite the legislative aims. 
  • Organisations feel that the current system is still too focussed on a competitive model and want to see procurement continue to shift towards more collaborative models with stronger partnerships between ‘buyers’ and ‘suppliers’. 
  • There is also general agreement that the current processes continue to prioritise price/cost over quality/outcomes, are not person-centred, are often inefficient, and are risk averse.  

There are alternative models and ideas being put forward by organisations regarding how processes can be improved. Instances where these models have been successfully implemented remain the exception rather than standard practice, but they show that change is possible, and that procurement is not necessarily an inflexible system that favours ‘the big boys’.

From the research reports we looked at we can see that the public sector wants to engage more with the voluntary sector and social enterprises. That positive intention alongside progressive developments around Community Wealth Building and sustainable procurement suggests that things will continue to improve – even if these things do move quite slowly. 
Read the full report on the sector’s experiences of procurement and the current barriers and enablers: The voluntary sector and Procurement – a summary of current voluntary sector experiences.

Last modified on 3 July 2024