Responsible Procurement

The Social Value Act (2012) places responsibilities on contracting authorities in the Public Sector to consider economic, social and environmental well-being prior to designing procurement exercises. Whilst it is not mandatory for NEUPC and our member universities to incorporate it into our tenders, with a collaborative spend of over £400m in 2018/19, it is widely acknowledged that we can contribute positively to the delivery of greater equality and social inclusion as well as broader sustainability goals.

In late 2019/2020 NEUPC surveyed with members to review the Social Value TOMs, widely used by Local Authorities and some Government departments and consider which social value measurements would be appropriate for our Frameworks. We used this feedback as well as the Government’s consultation paper on social value to develop a new Responsible Procurement and Social Value Policy.

In February 2020, NEUPC became the first HE purchasing consortia to achieve the CIPS Corporate Ethics Mark in recognition of our commitment to ethical procurement and ensuring that our procurement staff undertake mandatory annual e-learning and test to ensure currency of knowledge.

Contacts for sustainability issues:

[email protected]

NEUPC Sustainability Group Chair and Membership are shown in the Sustainability Category Group page.

Responsible Procurement and Social Value Policy

The NEUPC Responsible Procurement and Social Value Policy establishes our commitment to deliver procurement services in a way that actively promotes and enhances the Responsible Procurement and Social Value performance of our organisation, our members and our suppliers. It also provides guidance for NEUPC Category Managers on how to ensure this is delivered to members throughout the procurement process to contract management. In the financial year 2022-2023, NEUPC members spent over £285m though collaborative agreements. This provides an excellent opportunity to make a positive impact through the implementation of our RP and SV responsibilities.

If you would like to discuss this policy or have any questions, please get in contact with Responsible Procurement Category Manager Steven Hogg

Download the NEUPC Procurement Policy

Update for Suppliers - Sustain Supply Chain Code of Conduct

NEUPC wrote to our framework Suppliers asking them to sign up voluntarily for the Sustain Supply Code of Conduct. In the Summer of 2021, NEUPC rolled out the Sustain Supply Chain Code of Conduct to its current Framework Suppliers voluntarily; and will move towards sign-up to the code of conduct being a mandatory condition of award to new frameworks.

The Sustain Supply Chain Code of Conduct is the product of the 'Sustain' Project which was itself a sector wide collaboration to establish a single supply chain code of conduct for use across the HE and FE sectors; and was initiated in 2013. It aimed to understand the Social, Ethical & Environmental standards and behaviours of the sector's suppliers, to set minimum standards and to provide a platform for supply chain performance improvement. Having a single standard for the sector’s suppliers to work to, was and is felt to be essential for effective engagement of the supply base in driving responsible business performance forward.

The standards in this Code were derived from established global conventions and standards, including the UN SDGs, ETI base Code and ILO Conventions. The Code of conduct was adopted by all of Scotland's Universities and Colleges, with the London Universities Purchasing Consortium adopting it shortly afterwards and on the 21 January 2020, the Sustain Supply Chain Code of Conduct was endorsed by the HEPA Responsible Procurement Group as the recommended UK HE sector standard supply chain code of conduct. A major update of the Code took place in early 2021 and the latest version, (2021b) is available here.

NEUPC plans to roll-out the Sustain Supply Chain Code of Conduct to its current framework suppliers on a voluntary basis and move towards sign-up to the code of conduct being a mandatory condition of award to new frameworks. To demonstrate their commitment, current and potential suppliers will be asked to commit to Responsible Sustainable procurement within their organisations and to acknowledge their compliance with the principles of the Sustain Supply Chain Code of Conduct, with respect to their organisation and their supply chain. NEUPC does recognise that supply chains are complex and may not yet be fully compliant with the code through every tier of a supply chain, but the code should encourage greater focus and influence the application of improved standards, processes and conditions which will benefit both people and planet.

Modern Slavery

In response for the Modern Slavery Act 2015 members, suppliers and other interested parties can download and read our Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement at the link below. This latest version was approved by the NEUPC Board of Directors on 23rd May 2023.

Focus on Packaging

The HEPA Responsible Procurement Group Sustainable Packaging and Deliveries Subgroup have been working to develop resources and activities to support Consortia and University Procurement staff in reducing packaging, increasing recycled content and reducing deliveries which would also help with reducing carbon emissions. 

Key Sustainability Issues

During the current pandemic and lockdown periods, IMRG (the UK’s online retail association) reported that on-line sales had increased by 36% in 2020, which is the highest growth rate in 13 years. This increase in on-line deliveries has highlighted three key sustainability issues.

  1. The excessive waste of packaging which goes way beyond product protection
  2. The use of non-recycled or recyclable packaging materials 
  3. The multiple separate deliveries from certain on-line retailers for a single order. 

When these issues are translated into the volume of product and packaging delivered to a University campus annually, and there are clearly sustainability concerns that Procurement staff can target and reduce in collaboration with internal customers and suppliers.

Taking Action

One of the first things that was considered by the group was how to identify which categories needed the most attention due to the high volumes of packaging. The University of the West of England offered their assistance. Facilitated by Helen Baker in Procurement, the Sustainability team of Paul Roberts and Jennifer Fawcett-Thorne took the existing Sustainability Risk Analysis by PROC-HE 2 and updated it to include columns for packaging, specifically plastics, cardboard and polystyrene as well as identifying where the supplier may be liable for reporting volumes as part of the Packaging Waste: Producer Responsibilities. 

This provides a great tool to use when developing a sourcing or procurement plan prior to tendering, as it helps identify whether there is the potential to reduce, recycle, reuse or even eliminate packaging through the life of the contract. Another use could be to identify where questions on the sustainability credentials of packaging might form part of the tender evaluation criteria. 

Download the Responsible Procurement Commodity Coding Risk Analysis

Plastic Packaging Tax

Over the last few years, there has been much coverage of plastic waste on TV, in the media and highlighted by leading environmental pressure groups. The UK Government has announced that from April 2022, the Plastics Packaging Tax will be introduced with a £200 per tonne tax rate for packaging which contains less than 30% recycled plastic. 

The HEPA Sustainable Packaging Group suggest that Universities might consider encouraging suppliers to adopt WRAP’s UK Plastic Pact targets which are:

  1. Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery model.
  2. 100% of plastics packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
  3. 70% of plastics packaging effectively recycled or composted.
  4. 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging. 

Driving Down Single Use

There’s been a big focus on eliminating single-use plastics wherever possible, replacing with multi-use, recycled content or plant-based alternatives. But the use of any material that is either excessive in terms of volume or needs to go through recycling and re-manufacture processes to be reused is also quite wasteful. So what can be done?

  • Can you encourage suppliers to reduce the volume of packaging supplied with their products? 
  • Are there ways this can be done without compromising the integrity of its products whilst being stored and during delivery? 
  • Can the supplier develop permanent or reusable packaging and collect for reuse? 
    If alternatives are not possible – can they use packaging from a sustainable source, that is fully recyclable or have a high recycled content.

Next Steps

The Sustainable Packaging and Deliveries Subgroup are working to develop packaging specification guidance for procurement staff and develop template evaluation criteria, model answers and suggested packaging KPI’s. Whilst the group will undertake research to develop these tools, if you or anyone at your institution has any relevant content or useful links, please share with the group via Lorraine Whelan, NEUPC Head of Operational Procurement.

Developing a carbon reduction plan for SMEs

UKUPC Releases Carbon Reduction Guidance for SMEs Supplying the HE Sector on Final Day of COP26

To support the well-being of future generations UKUPC Responsible Procurement Group have developed a carbon reduction plan for SMEs to help minimise the impact of the HE sectors activities on the environment.

Keep 1.5 alive has been the call throughout COP26, which holds its final day of activity on Friday. To mark the end of a summit characterised by calls for action instead of PR-driven pledges, UK Universities Purchasing Consortia (UKUPC), of which NEUPC is a member, has released its carbon reduction plan for SMEs. This guidance aims to help minimise the impact of the HE sector’s activities on the environment.  

While large suppliers may have the resources (if not always the will) to significantly lower their carbon emissions, it can be hard for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who may have limited expertise and financial or human resources to deliver meaningful change.

Larger suppliers already have to report their emissions, but the bulk of organisations supplying the HE sector in the UK are SMEs – changes within this supply base can have a meaningful impact.  

The guidance, which is being shared with all awarded SME frameworks suppliers, covers:

  • Why carbon reduction is important
  • Why the HE sector wants suppliers to commit to a carbon reduction plan
  • The benefits of having a carbon reduction plan
  • Ways to reduce your carbon footprint
  • Steps in developing a plan
  • Suggested template
  • Useful resources
  • Key terms glossary

Members can also use this guidance with suppliers that sit outside of consortia frameworks. 

Access the complete guidance here.

UKUPC is a partnership between eight UK consortia (APUCAPUC, HEPCWHEPCW, LUPCLUPC, NEUPCNEUPC, NWUPCNWUPC, SUPCSUPC, TEC and TUCOTUCO) who created a formal entity to support collaborative procurement within Higher and Further Education. All eight consortia work together to share knowledge and best practice, to support each other, our wider procurement community and our supply base. 

Carbon Reduction Workshop - November 2021

If you missed our Carbon Reduction Workshop by Dr Fred Patterson and our former Responsible Procurement Manager Debbie Shore on Tuesday 23 November 2021, don't worrk now's your chance to catch up on the session.

Discover how you can get started on your journey to combat climate change and further your understanding of environmental and social issues with practical tips and tools. 

Embedding Social Value in Procurements

Stuart Cairns Partner at Bird & Bird
Published 6 October 2022
Click here for the original article 


Social value has formally been a part of the UK procurement landscape since the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 (the Act) came into force. The Act requires public authorities [and their supply chains] to consider not only cost when commissioning or procuring services but also how the public authority can make a positive economic, social and / or environmental impact through the commissioning / procurement process. Public procurement amounted to approximately £379 billion from 2021-2022 which demonstrates the significant contribution public procurement can make to achieving social value.

The disproportionate impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on certain sectors of the UK population have sharpened the focus on the need to tackle social and economic inequalities. In the same way, the declaration of climate emergencies in approximately 300 local authorities in the UK has emphasised the need to take urgent action in respect of environmental issues.

What this means in practice is that public sector organisations are empowered to set their own social value targets and to embed these priorities at all stages of their commissioning processes (i.e. from initial shortlisting, right through the procurement process and ultimately into the contract) and includes placing obligations on suppliers to ensure that their subcontractors comply with the relevant social value policies.

Social value is an umbrella term which covers a broad range of objectives. The UK Government’s 2020 Social Value Model (below), offers a snapshot of key themes and policy outcomes captured by the term social value:

Social values Model

Public bodies have discretion to set their own social value targets in line with their own local and strategic priorities.

How is social value incorporated into procurements?

Social value can be considered at multiple stages of a procurement process, most commonly through use of evaluation criteria at tender stage. This typically includes testing bidders’ proposals for delivering: (i) specified wider benefits alongside the core contract deliverables; and (ii) contract objectives in a way that respects and adheres to broader social value commitments. For example, standalone, social value focussed questions on how a bidder proposes to meet sustainability objectives during contract delivery are very common in the procurements we advise on.

Additionally, social value may be woven into the contract specification so that any proposals put forward by bidders are evaluated for compliance with a specification which has delivery of social value as a core objective. If evaluated as standalone questions, typically the maximum weighting afforded to social value objectives is in the region of 10%.

Scoping and embedding social value can also take place at other stages of the procurement lifecycle:

  • Pre-procurement – the preparation and planning stage of a procurement process is possibly the most significant stage in respect of embedding social value. This is because it is the stage at which key decisions are made on the procurement process, the award criteria and the contract conditions. The eligibility, selection criteria and suitability criteria are also scoped at this stage. Further, public authorities need to consider whether the contract can be divided into lots to promote SME accessibility. Crucially, at the outset of a procurement, public authorities can engage with potential suppliers on how best to embed identified social value objectives into contract delivery. This can shape the way in which the public authority assesses tenders and eventual contract delivery. The key is to establish a good working relationship with suppliers who buy into the social value vision.
  • Selection stage – public authorities can consider exclusion grounds which cover breaches of environmental laws, the Equality Act 2010 and other applicable laws such as the modern slavery act – subject to the principles of non-discrimination, proportionality and relevance to the contract being procured. In procurement procedures which contain shortlisting stages public authorities could consider social and / or environmental track record, inclusion of SMEs in the supply chain and other relevant factors so long as these factors are objective, justifiable, transparent, and non-discriminatory.

We advise public authority clients and bidders alike on the practical implementation of social value regularly, and when implemented correctly, the shared commitment to the achievement of social value goals is unparalleled.

How is social value encouraged in UK legislation?

The achievement of what we now know as social value has been promoted through legislative reform over the past 10-12 years. Shifting the focus of procurement being solely related to cost to encompassing wider objectives. The key Acts being:

  • the Equality Act 2010 section 149 – this introduced the public sector equality duty; and 
  • the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 which represented the largest shift away from purely cost focused procurements. 

Prior to the Social Value Act, public authorities were bound by section 17 of the Local Government Act 1988 which prohibited public bodies from taking into account “non-commercial considerations” in works and supply contracts. However, the Social Value Act provided an exception to the section 17 rule in respect of services contracts whereby social value factors can be assessed so long as they are directly relevant to the services being procured.

The Social Value Act requires public authorities to ‘consider, prior to undertaking the procurement process, how any services procured (whether covered by the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 or otherwise) might improve economic, social and environmental well-being.’

In 2020, the UK Government introduced Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 06/20, which enhanced the focus on social value and required more concrete actions from public authorities. PPN 16/20 required all central government entities to evaluate social value, “where the requirements are related and proportionate to the subject-matter of the contract, rather than just ‘considered’ as currently required under the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012”.

The PPN obliged central government to introduce ‘social value’ with at least 10% weighting in award criteria, and in line with a Social Value ModelHowever, procurement teams retained the freedom and flexibility to determine which social outcomes were appropriate in the context of the contract.

The upcoming reform to Procurement law via the Procurement Bill provides powers to Ministers to disapply section 17 of the Local Government Act 1988 with secondary legislation. This power extends to a complete disapplication to all types of contracts which fall under section 17. This disapplication would allow ‘social value’ to be introduced in the award criteria for a far wider range of contract procurements including supply and works contracts, so long as the criteria relates to the subject-matter of the contract.

What problems are associated with using procurement to deliver social value?

One potential issue we have encountered when advising on implementing social value is that it needs to be balanced against broader procurement principles such as equal treatment and non-discrimination.  This means that unless directly applicable to the subject matter of the contract, it is unlikely to be lawful to require use of local labour or suppliers in an above threshold contract. This is because the public authorities are bound by the ‘principles of procurement’ under Regulation 18 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (as amended) (PCR). However, Procurement Policy Note - Reserving Below Threshold Procurements, PPN 11/20 December 2020 provides an exception where a public contract is below threshold. In such circumstances public authorities have discretion to reserve below threshold contracts by location i.e. within the UK or within a specified metropolitan or non-metropolitan county (within the county of Surrey, for example). The purpose behind the reservation of contracts by location is to:

  • bolster domestic supply chains and promote resilience and capacity (UK wide reservation); and/or 
  • tackle economic inequality and support local recruitment, training, skills and investment (county reservation). 

We have been advising clients on the application of the supplier location reservation since publication of PPN 11/20.

The enhancement of social value no doubt needs to be balanced against other priorities such as achieving value for money and ensuring that the contract delivers the best possible solution for the public authority. Getting this balance right takes time and detailed preparation.

Another issue we have been asked to advise on is monitoring performance of social value once embedded into a contract. This is why we advise our clients to be specific about their requirements in respect of social value and to ask for tangible and measurable conditions of the contract which can be monitored throughout contract delivery.

Changes to social value in UK procurement

Following Brexit, the UK Government stated its intention to reform procurement law. The Procurement Bill was published in July 2022, and for the first time included reference to the Government’s National Procurement Policy Statement (NPPS). The NPPS is a relatively short document, but contains a long list of outcomes which should be considered by contracting authorities, as well as three national outcomes:

  1. Create new businesses, skills and jobs
  2. Tackle climate change and reduce waste
  3. Improve supplier diversity, innovation and resilience

Under the proposed Procurement Bill, contracting authorities will be required to “have regard” to the NPPS. The "have regard" duty is a public law term which ultimately requires authorities to do two things:

  • consider the NPPS properly; and
  • identify valid reasons for departing from the NPPS.

The duty to have regard to the NPPS will ensure that social value permeates early discussions when public authorities are laying the foundations for launching a public procurement. All public authorities, not just central government, will need to actively consider incorporating social value and have good reason for not doing so. 

How to successfully incorporate social value into procurements

By including social value in a procurement, a public authority can set the tone for delivery of a long-term project and lock in social value initiatives which will provide crucial benefits such as progress towards climate change objectives or facilitation of employment opportunities. Achieving this requires careful design of the procurement and drafting of the contract.

  1. Choose a procurement process which facilitates high-quality bids. By using a procurement route such as the negotiated procedure, authorities can provide a platform on which to engage with bidders and explore the social value objectives which are most appropriate in that context. Additionally, a pre-market engagement exercise could be used to open discussion on this topic and gain insight from the market.
  2. Consider which social value outcomes are appropriate. Every public project is unique and the approach to social value should be bespoke. It may not be appropriate in certain projects, to include reference to apprenticeships or to delivering benefits for a particular community. Equally, there may be contracts (for example, those which are particularly urgent) in which social value cannot be appropriately incorporated into the contract. 
  3. Design the questions and award criteria carefully. Award criteria must be linked to the subject matter of the contract; this is a requirement under procurement law. Therefore, if a public authority intends to include questions and award criteria weighting for social value, these must be carefully drafted in order to be compliant.
  4. Draft the contract in a way that ensures social value promises are delivered upon. Once bidders have offered proposals in relation to social value via the procurement, it is crucial that these are locked in and referred to within the contract. Typically, the contents of the bidder’s tender will be included in the contract. However, social value obligations should be included expressly and ideally be quantifiable. This should be supported by specified mechanisms for monitoring and testing the performance of those obligations. 


Procurement processes provide public authorities with opportunities to design social value objectives which are relevant to their specific local or strategic priorities and to implement these objectives into contracts in ways which are tangible and measurable. The forthcoming Procurement Act appears to support the social value agenda and provides further incentive to incorporate social value into procurements. As many of our clients in both the public and private sector know, the key to getting social value right is through careful preparation.

Responsible Procurement Glossary

A UKUPC Responsible Procurement Network has been set up with the aim of achieving a consistent approach across the consortia to responsible procurement throughout our activities. UKUPC are committed to embedding responsible procurement in everything we do. We want to look after our communities, our fellow global citizens and our environment, and by working with us, members can access agreements tendered with responsible procurement in mind.

As responsible procurement is considered throughout all of UKUPC’s activities, the UKUPC Responsible Procurement Network has created a Responsible Procurement Glossary to help bring clarity to some of the terms we use. This is a living document and will be amended with new terminology as required. If you are aware of any other relevant terms we should include, please contact marketing.

Version 2 Uploaded 09/03/2021: UKUPC Responsible Procurement Glossary v2.pdf

UKUPC Sustainable Development Goals Questions and Answers

This is a set of questions and model answers that relate back to the UN SDGs and the Social Value TOMs.

The questions can be used at framework or call off level to further investigate potential suppliers’ commitments and plans to manage their organisations and supply chains in accordance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The below document is never finished, it is designed to be updated and added to.

If you have any questions you would like added to the question set, or if you have any additional questions or areas you would like addressed, or if you would like to see the model answers, please contact Steven Hogg, Responsible Procurement Category Manager

UKUPC - SDG Questions.pdf