• The Society of Procurement Officers has more than 3,000 members in local government.
• Pre-qualification questionnaires have been introduced to local procurement.
• Research is key to winning business.
• SOPO is having a national conference in November.

To the wood products sector, it seems logical that timber certification should be highest on the local authority procurement agenda. Yet for the just over 3,000 members of the Society of Procurement Officers in Local Government (SOPO), delivering on all three interlocking aspects of sustainability – economic, environmental and social – is now a regular feature of their procurement. In rating supplier tenders, certified timber is only one element in a wider mix of sustainability criteria.

“If procurement can help bring about community, environmental and business benefits whilst also fulfilling public sector requirements, then everyone wins,” said Peter Howarth, a leading national authority on public sector procurement and chief executive of SOPO.

Mr Howarth’s experience spans motor industry procurement and 20 years in local government purchasing and strategic development. As well as his SOPO role, he is involved with procurement ‘think-tanks’ and runs his own business, Simply Best Value (, so can understand both sides of the procurement fence.

Local sustainability

“Local sustainability is certainly on the public sector agenda,” he said. “Merchants may be involved with neighbourhood schools through work experience, or may be helping to up-skill the workforce through apprenticeships. These and other factors can work in their favour, so I’m surprised they are not often included when companies complete corporate social responsibility details in tender documentation.”

Pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) have been introduced to local procurement to comply with legislation and also help procurement officials narrow down potential bidders. SOPO and its commercial partner BiP Solutions Ltd (a provider of public sector contract information) have introduced an accreditation system under which standardised company details are made available to SOPO members nationwide, thus reducing the time burden in submitting and processing tenders.

“Considering the importance of tender documents, it’s surprising how many don’t fill in the information in the format or detail required, or indeed even answer all the questions,” said Mr Howarth. “They unnecessarily eliminate themselves from the competition.

Do your research

“Research is another key to winning business: many public sector organisations have a page on their website with information on how to sell to the council and their sustainability policies, so you can optimise the ‘fit’ between your company’s and the council’s position.

SOPO runs sessions on tendering for local authority business and details can be found under ‘Events’ on “We also have a national conference in November which suppliers can pay to attend. This will help merchants understand our methods and the factors likely to influence our decisions,” said Mr Howarth.

In addition to detailing their timber certification, BSI/ISO standards, community engagement and social policies, merchants should also look into their CO2 emissions ahead of criteria being added to future PQQs.

“Local authorities have to address their carbon emissions in tandem with all public sector organisations, government bodies and departments,” said Mr Howarth. “It has been recognised that supply chain CO2 emissions can be minimised through procurement policies.

“SOPO is not against this development, yet we don’t want it to detract from good commercial practice or to disadvantage local businesses. Reducing CO2 can aid your competitiveness, for example by mapping supply chain carbon footprints. It can also reduce costs and boost efficiency. You can increase your company’s chances of winning public sector business by making sustainability activities integral to your operations.”

Equality and diversity

Looking ahead, what other issues could be added to pre-qualification sustainability criteria in the near future?

“Equality and diversity policies will be the next area of focus with the Equalities Act coming up next year,” he said. “Companies should be prepared for questions on how they address ethnicity, disability, the gender balance, sexual orientation, and so on. Your response can make a positive statement about your company, enhancing your chances of winning public sector business.

“My advice to timber and builders merchants is that, if you have good stories to tell, make sure you demonstrate them to full effect in your tender documents and PQQs. Public sector bodies are much more on your side than you think. Businesses are part of the community and offer local employment and services and are therefore a vital part of the sustainability equation. We want to know everything that would help us make a decision in your favour, so make sure you include all relevant details in your responses.”