The UK government’s decision to award the passport contract to a Franco-Dutch company is attracting strong criticism from Brexiteers who believe that an icon of British sovereignty should be sourced from a British company. It’s an emotive argument which will surely find a receptive audience, but there is a more compelling reason – The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. This piece of legislation, enacted by the previous coalition government, requires “public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services contracts” and, specifically, to consider “how what is proposed to be procured might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the relevant area.”
Procuring passports from a foreign supplier is contrary to the aims of this legislation; indeed it could be argued that it doesn’t just fail to improve well-being but to be actively detrimental. Tax revenue previously spent with a UK supplier will be diverted overseas, social deprivation could be caused by potential job losses at the incumbent supplier and environmental impacts associated with applications and deliveries will certainly increase.
In practice, the intrinsic economic, social and environmental impacts of public sector contracts are not always considered by public procurers; many look for commitments from the service providers to add value in a similar way to the Section 106 requirements for planning applications. But surely, if a public service contract creates negative social value outcomes then the supplier should be required to commit to adding economic, social and environmental value that more than compensates for them.
There is a fundamental hypocrisy in the government’s decision, which disregards the requirements of legislation for which it was jointly responsible. It would be interesting to explore how the Social Value Act was reflected in the tender documents for this contract, if at all, and what commitments have been made by the successful bidder.