This insight paper focuses on the potential effects of changes in council leadership particularly regarding council social value priorities, and how this could impact potential suppliers when bidding for council contracts. The UK local elections are planned for 4th May 2023 where 8,000 council seats are available to candidates. Polling data and political analysis suggest due to 13 years in power at Westminster, the Conservatives are likely to lose seats to Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party in the council elections. In total, 230 councils across England will have elections (see map), as well as elections for four directly elected mayors. Councils are one of the largest buyers in the public procurement space; as such, the local elections will potentially have a major effect on local policies and future opportunities. The immediate effect of the local elections on public procurement is ‘Purdah’.
What is Purdah?
Purdah, in the context of UK elections, refers to a period of time before an election during which government departments and civil servants are expected to act in a politically neutral manner.
Purdah also applies to local and council elections in the UK, although the guidelines and restrictions may vary slightly from those for general elections. In the context of local elections, the purdah period typically begins when the notice of election is published, which is around four to six weeks before election day.
During the purdah period for local elections, council officials, employees, and local authorities must also act in a politically neutral manner. They should refrain from making significant policy announcements, launching new initiatives, or engaging in actions that could be seen as advantageous to any political party or candidate, including awarding contracts. This mainly applies to council contracts; however, the decision to award large or strategically important contracts may also be delayed.
What effect does Purdah have with regard to bids?
Councils will have planned their procurement programme carefully to avoid key decisions or procurements beginning during purdah. However, in practice, procurements often overrun and things do not go according to plan. With this in mind, be prepared for the following during purdah:
- Major bid opportunities are unlikely to be released, or delayed
- Decisions may be delayed until after the elections are complete – particularly for opportunities above £500k
- Lack/reduction of pre-bid/market engagement
Potential Changes – Social Value
All of the major political parties have different opinions on policy matters, both at a national and local level. At a local level, a change of council leadership has the potential to have a significant impact on social value policy and local priorities.
Contracts Advance has discussed the potential impact with local councillors. It has been suggested that councils run by Parties who prioritise the environment and localisation may place more value on social value in the future. From an environmental perspective, the ongoing commitment to reducing CO2 footprint aligned to the implementation of the Government’s Net Zero Policy by 2050 may be seen. The Green Party may accelerate the rollout of this in line with Party Priorities. The main risk/opportunity to bidders could be around the inclusion of measures that relate to supporting 15-minute cities, sustainable resources, using local suppliers and supporting community projects.
Should these changes happen, bidders will need to ensure that they are fully engaged in the local area that they wish to bid and that their pre-bid activity includes understanding the local community and issues. There could be an increase in the weightings applied to social value, making it more important than pricing, in some cases. Potentially, this could be an area in which bidders differentiate themselves in the market and if they can get this right, could see significant growth for those that understand and deliver for local communities.
National bidders may find it more difficult to respond to social value requirements unless they have local resources and supply chains particularly if the 15-minute city initiative is rolled out on a wider scale. Local organisations might find themselves with an advantage as they may be connected to local communities and have local infrastructure/systems in place already which means they are in a prime position to respond.
Some councils, particularly second-tier district councils, also have the potential to be run by independent groupings. These groupings often have a very local focus, and the expectation would be that their social value priorities would be along the same lines.
Current Example – Herefordshire
The council is run by an administration made up of Independents, the Green Party and the local grouping ‘It’s our County’, with a similar make-up is likely to occur after the 2023 election. Herefordshire has a detailed social value policy with local and targeted priorities including:
- Supporting youth workers across parishes and market towns
- Reducing anti-social behaviour through increasing meaningful activity for 11-18 year olds in rural areas
- Working towards a net carbon zero target of 2030
- Achieving biodiversity net gain
What should bidders do?
It would be prudent for bidders to revisit their pipelines and ensure they understand which geographies are likely to be affected following the election results.
Once it is clear what the focus of each council will be, bidders should ensure that their pre-bid activity incorporates the appropriate priorities and focuses on how to position themselves in the strongest possible way for each bid.
Bidders should start to compile a long list of social value schemes that can be localised, are deliverable and cost from which they can adapt for each bid.
Social value is one area that bidders often struggle with when responding to tenders. There are numerous resources available including webinars, toolkits and evaluation reports which bidders should use to identify good practice and incorporate this into their approach.