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Step changes in procurement policy can achieve big social impact

Mar 13, 2024 | News

On 13 and 14 March, the 11th edition of the Procura+ conference has taken place in Lisbon, of which AEIDL is one of the endorsers. For over 25 years the Procura+ conference has been where sustainable, circular and innovation procurement policy meets practice. Valentina Caimi, Senior expert at AEIDL, was invited to share expertise on socially responsible public procurement (SRPP). In the last six years, with other colleagues, she has developed or reviewed 114 case studies on SRPP, on behalf of the European Commission and EU agencies. 

To illustrate how step changes can achieve big impact, she chose to tell the story of the Provincial Council of Guipúzcoa, in the Basque country, Spain, a case study that was developed for the Green Public Procurement Helpdesk

The objective of the Provincial Council of Guipúzcoa was to promote gender equality through public procurement. This process started in 2007 and saw its foundation in the Basque Law 4/2005 on Equality between women and men. In 2008 the Equality Body was created, which has been the driving force of this process. In more than two decades, the Provincial Council of Guipúzcoa has developed a comprehensive process to promote gender equality by the means of public procurement. This process includes a legislative/regulatory component (a number of laws on the incorporation of social/gender clauses), a capacity building programme, a steady collaboration and reflection process between the Equality Body and the legal department of the Provincial Council, and a system of monitoring and evaluation. 

On the legislative/regulatory side the Provincial Council took a dual approach: the objective of using public procurement to promote gender equality was included in regulations and strategies on both public procurement and gender equality. A coordinated support system was set up, first of all to include gender equality clauses in a systematic way in the procurement procedures, and in a second phase, to monitor and evaluate their use. The Equality Body raised awareness about the need to institutionalise the process in the other departments. In 2010, the Equality Body started a capacity building programme addressed to the provincial staff with responsibility for contracting. During the period 2013-2016, all the departments of the Provincial Council carried out monitoring to identify the contracts that had incorporated equality clauses. In 2017, the Provincial Council developed a guide for monitoring equality clauses, an internal working document. 

The policy put in place by the Provincial Council of Guipúzcoa has had a clear impact. In 2013, there were 71 contracts including gender clauses. In 2016, gender clauses were included in 172 contracts out of 210 (82%) and in all types of contracts. Currently, equality clauses are included in all public contracts of the Provincial Council, with different degrees and levels of application and thus not always the same results. From a qualitative perspective, there has been an evolution, too, since initially gender equality clauses were mainly incorporated in award criteria, whereas nowadays they are generally included in the contract performance conditions.

The evaluation carried out in 2019 of the policy of the Provincial Council showed the following results:

  • More women were hired by bidders/contractors and in some work contracts, the number of women in managerial positions has increased.
  • Contractors have increased awareness raising and training in gender equality. 
  • Public procurement officers found that the incorporation of the clauses had changed not only their monitoring processes, but also their planning processes, which now take into account equality clauses from the very beginning. 

From research conducted in different projects by AEIDL, we know that public procurement can produce social outcomes if a favourable legal framework is coupled with adequate policy frameworks both in the domain of procurement and other domains (gender equality in this case), with capacity-building programmes, monitoring and reporting frameworks, and institutional collaboration between different bodies and departments (such as the Equality Body and the legal department of the Provincial Council).

The example from the Provincial Council of Guipúzcoa testifies how step changes undertaken from 2008 have created a big impact in the use of public procurement to advance gender equality.