Public bodies across the UK are being urged to use the purchasing power of procurement contracts to drive critical investment in skills. Until recently the inclusion of clauses in contracts relating to skills and training was limited, but now it is to be applied across the board. Total public procurement is worth around 175 billion pounds a year.
New guidance from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills urges public organisations to encourage contractors to provide skills training and apprenticeships in all publicly let contracts. The guidance covers all types of public contracts for products and services from facilities management and IT to construction.
The Department argues that public contracts offer a unique opportunity to invest in the nation’s skills and build a more productive workforce better able to respond to technological changes. Other benefits include improving public services, getting greater value for money and helping people progress in their careers.
The call to use public procurement as a lever to raise skills levels is supported by the CBI and the TUC.
Pressure to lever improvements in skills through procurement has been increasing in recent months. In summer 2008 there was a commitment that all employees working on central Government contracts should have access to basic literacy and numeracy skills training if they needed it. In November Ministers committed to consider the inclusion of relevant skills and apprenticeship requirements in the procurement of publicly funded construction projects. The DIUS also introduced a requirement that all building colleges for the future projects have a formal training plan in place that maximises access to apprenticeships for their workforce.
In addition the Olympic Delivery Authority is including a condition in new contracts that three per cent of the workforce working at the Olympic Park site are apprentices, creating an extra 250 places. The Homes and Communities Agency is also committing to maximising employment, training and apprenticeship opportunities across its annual investment budget of more than 5 billion pounds. The HCA will be looking to include skills and training requirements in the next round of bids for the National Affordable Housing Programme and for Property and Regeneration work.