Green Procurement

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 1st February 2007.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 9:15 am, 1st February 2007

Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5494, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on green procurement.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

All political parties now speak the language of sustainable development. Across the political spectrum, warm words are spoken about the links that join the social, economic and environmental aspects of our lives and the way in which we run our society. No doubt the Executive will want to tell us in glowing terms of the work that it has done to advance green procurement, but the unfortunate reality is that, well intentioned though such work might be, it is not having the desired effect. Social and environmental criteria in public contracts are not the norm and we have a long way to go to change that. Today's debate is intended to open up discussion on how those warm words can be turned into more effective action. By using the huge spending power of the public sector in Scotland, we can achieve social and environmental objectives while providing high-quality public services.

What should green procurement mean in practice? According to the European Commission document "Buying green!: A handbook on environmental public procurement", green procurement can cover huge areas of public spending, from construction materials such as timber to office supplies such as paper. It can also cover transport, electricity from renewable energy suppliers and low-energy devices. Furthermore, it can cover the food and drink that are procured for every school, office, hospital, prison and public building in Scotland.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

Will the member join me in congratulating Inverness high school on the fact that its pupils grow their own vegetables on the school grounds and prepare them and eat them in special celebratory school meals?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

My party's Highlands and Islands representative tells me that the Inverness example is a wonderful project. I would love to learn more about it. I have seen other examples in East Ayrshire that I will mention in a few moments.

There are a few examples of good practice, but the difficulty is that they are not the norm.

One piece of legislation that could be used to push things forward is the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill, which the Communities Committee is considering. The committee has looked at projects in East Ayrshire such as the Soil Association's food for life programme, which is not only improving the quality of the meals provided but building links between food producers and local communities. When we visited the project, we saw how the links between the school or community and the farmers and producers are having an effect not just on the food that goes on to plates but on the relationship that pupils have with food. Increasing awareness of where food comes from helps to promote a healthier relationship with food for life. Thus, green procurement is not only about how such children are fed but about how we can hit other social policy objectives, from promoting health and preventing obesity to supporting locally owned businesses.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

Does Patrick Harvie agree that many of the points that he has made could be backed up by safeguarding existing allotments and creating new ones?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I would love to see every primary school have its own allotment. That would be a marvellous idea.

In scrutinising the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill, the committee asked the Minister for Education and Young People whether he would use the bill to push forward those examples by making such practice the norm. However, he told us that he would simply reissue some guidance that was issued a couple of years ago. If the guidance was issued a couple of years ago, it is clearly not having the necessary impact. In its stage 1 report, the committee agreed that something stronger was necessary in light of the new European directive. Given that the Scottish procurement policy note that the Executive issued in March 2006 after the public procurement directive came into effect states that

"there is no intention to publish separate Scottish guidance", the current situation is that local authorities and public bodies may include social and environmental criteria but are not required to do so.

However, the Minister for Education and Young People seems to have acknowledged that that is not good enough in the amendments that he lodged yesterday, which will beef things up by giving the guidance on social and environmental aspects of food procurement a legislative basis. I hope that the Executive will agree that the same should happen for the whole of the public sector. Until we get a strong basis for such action throughout the public sector, examples such as the one in East Ayrshire will remain the exception rather than the rule. In a Sustainable Scotland Network survey, only one local authority indicated that it formally linked procurement to other policies. Across many aspects of procurement, it was found that sustainable choices were simply not being made.

The benefits of green procurement could be seen throughout society. For example, in social housing we could make a big difference by ensuring that housebuilders that are bidding for public sector work know before they start that they must demonstrate the highest level of commitment to sustainability in sourcing construction materials and in energy and heating systems. If we did that, council tenants would also enjoy the benefits that are currently enjoyed by some tenants in the housing association sector.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I have already taken a couple of interventions, so I am afraid that I must move on.

For example, the Abertay Housing Association in Dundee is saving tenants around a third on their annual heating bills. If we used sustainable procurement of energy systems in the public housing sector, we could roll those benefits out to everybody.

Imagination is lacking in other areas, too. In the information technology systems that are bought for the public sector, there is an almost total reliance on Dell machines and Microsoft software. Now that Mr Gates has moved on to the next leg of his world tour to promote his new operating system, large numbers of public bodies will no doubt jump unthinkingly to the conclusion that they should throw good money after bad even though better alternatives are available. It is depressing to reflect on the fact that they will have been encouraged by the glorified product launch that has just taken place. Instead, why do we not encourage competition between the various IT products by requiring public bodies to give proper consideration to the basic freedoms that Microsoft products restrict but that other software products open up?

The Sustainable Scotland Network survey made it clear that many local authorities are calling for stronger direction and leadership from the Executive. Given that the European legislation has changed, there is a need for such leadership for the whole public sector. If local authorities alone shifted to green procurement practices, we would benefit from being able to use their £2.3 billion annual spend on goods and services to help to achieve our social and environmental objectives at the same time as providing those public services. Such a change makes sense at every level. Warm words are not enough to ensure that green procurement becomes the norm. We call on the Executive to give the direction that is required by making social and environmental criteria mandatory in all public contracts and to give public bodies the guidance that they need to make that a reality throughout the public sector.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the transposition into Scots Law of the European public procurement directive (2004/18/EEC) in January 2006 and, in particular, notes the directive's clarification that public bodies may legitimately specify social and environmental criteria in their procurement contracts; welcomes the publication by the European Commission of Buying Green!: A Handbook on Environmental Public Procurement but regrets that Scottish-specific guidance on the matter is not currently available, and calls on the Scottish Executive to make social and environmental criteria mandatory in all public contracts and to issue guidance to all local authorities and public bodies to enable them to meet these requirements.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 9:22 am, 1st February 2007

I welcome what Patrick Harvie has said this morning. I think that all members are firmly behind the idea that we need to take steps to ensure that green procurement underpins the approach of all public agencies throughout Scotland to sourcing materials.

I should declare an interest. As a farmer for many years and as a member of NFU Scotland, I fought long and hard to try to ensure that local sourcing of food and local food networks were firmly accepted by supermarkets and those who procured on behalf of public agencies. I have a long-term interest in the matter.

Green procurement has long been recognised as important for Scotland. Indeed, the partnership agreement states:

"We want a Scotland that delivers sustainable development; that puts environmental concerns at the heart of public policy".

The motion implies that the Executive has failed to do that in its procurement activity and has not issued Scottish guidance. That is simply not the case. The Executive's procurement website already contains guidance and information on sustainable development for both purchasers and suppliers. The website also provides links to guidance from other sources, such as the Office of Government Commerce and the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs. It also includes a link to the European Commission handbook "Buying green!", to which Mr Harvie referred.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I acknowledge that the Executive's procurement website contains links to many guidance notes, but I ask the minister whether I am misunderstanding something. Scottish procurement policy note 4/2006 states:

"there is no intention to publish separate Scottish guidance" on the changes that were introduced as a result of the coming into force of the European public procurement directive last year.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I was just coming to that issue. We have a consistent and comprehensive suite of guidance documents for purchasers on the treatment of social and environmental issues in public procurement. Not all those documents are Scottish—as I said, some of them are from DEFRA and the European Commission. The key issue is whether we agree with the guidance in those documents. It is sensible to make available to purchasers that comprehensive suite of guidance.

It is important to point out that, while successfully delivering green procurement, public purchasers must still achieve two fundamental objectives, the first of which is value for money. I hope that Mr Harvie and the Green party agree that Scottish taxpayers have a right to expect their money to be spent wisely and effectively. Value for money in procurement is crucial to delivering high-quality and cost-effective public services. The second fundamental objective is to award contracts that are legal. In other words, it is important that public bodies ensure that their procurement activities are undertaken within the scope of European Union law.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I am sorry, but I do not have a lot of time.

Thankfully, we now have greater flexibility to ensure that social and environmental objectives are taken into consideration. The Executive is clear that there is scope, where relevant, as indicated in our guidance, to include environmental and social criteria in public contracts. The Executive leads by example on that and has done so for several years. I will give members a sample of the guidance that we have issued. We have a web page that is dedicated to corporate social responsibility in procurement and which contains our green procurement guidance. We have issued guidance on buying legally logged timber from sustainably managed sources and Scotland-specific guidance on how to incorporate sustainable development into the procurement of food and catering services, for example for school meals. The hungry for success programme is a good example of the Executive's success in that matter.

In line with the recommendation in John McClelland's report, "Review of Public Procurement in Scotland: Report & Recommendations on public procurement in Scotland", the Executive is working on plans to establish a single point of inquiry. We are in discussion with key stakeholders and hope to make an announcement shortly on how that will work and how it will fit in with green procurement.

There are good examples of local food procurement. Those successes were helped by the Scotland-specific guidance, which we issued as far back as 2004, on encouraging local suppliers to become more involved in public procurement, for example by supplying schools, and on supporting local suppliers of fresh produce without breaking EU procurement legislation. We realise that small and medium-sized enterprises may find the process bureaucratic, which is why we have been in dialogue with representative bodies on how to open up opportunities for such businesses to bid for public contracts. We have delivered a number of successful outcomes, which I would discuss if I had more time.

The Executive's track record demonstrates that we have led from the front on green procurement and we will continue to do so. I hope that, at decision time, colleagues will support the amendment in my name.

I move amendment S2M-5494.4, to leave out from first "notes" to end and insert:

"recognises the Scottish Executive's record on sustainable/green procurement; notes that Scottish-specific guidance on sustainable procurement for public sector buyers and sellers is available on the Executive's website; notes that the Executive has issued best practice guidance on sustainable procurement, including a contribution to the Best Value toolkits, to local authorities and public bodies, and welcomes the contribution which public procurement has made, and will continue to make, to the achievement of the partnership commitments to a successful, sustainable Scotland."

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 9:28 am, 1st February 2007

I find myself in the unusual situation of agreeing with the Conservative party's amendment in a debate on the environment, which makes me realise that there is a growing consensus in Scotland on the threat of climate change to our nation and the wider world—even the Conservatives are on board these days. The debate that the Green party has brought to the Parliament is an important one and will involve a consensus on many of the issues that are discussed. We all agree that Scotland can play a role in tackling climate change and that, through Scotland's £30 billion central budget and the budget of United Kingdom departments and other public authorities in Scotland, we can help to create a low-carbon society in Scotland and take the environment into account across the board.

We must realise that we can influence the debate through public procurement. As Patrick Harvie said, the issue is not only about helping the environment but about creating jobs in Scotland. If we think local, we will create more local jobs in our communities in Scotland and save cash for the public sector in the longer term, through the adoption of energy efficiency and other measures. However, we must raise awareness in every single public body in Scotland, whether local schools and hospitals or central Government departments. We must also remove legislative obstacles that prevent such bodies from using their budgets to buy environmentally friendly goods and services. We must ensure that all staff in public sector bodies are trained so that the issue is at the centre of their consciousness and that, day in, day out, they think about how they can help the environment as they go about their daily working lives in the public sector.

Patrick Harvie mentioned the food for life initiative, details of which were sent to all members prior to the debate. That is not only about helping local businesses through local procurement and helping the environment through cutting down food miles but about improving people's health. Local food is healthier than imported food, for example because it is often not as processed, which is another key reason why we should promote the food for life initiative. I hope that the initiative is expanded outwith the Highlands and the other areas where it has been put in place so far.

I sought to intervene on the minister earlier to raise an issue that a local authority worker brought to my attention a few months ago about a move to centralise contracts in local government in Scotland, I presume, to achieve economies of scale across local authority areas. However, that runs counter to any effort to encourage local procurement. I hope that that issue is being addressed.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

John McClelland's report on procurement points out the necessity of ensuring that procurement is based on value for money, but it accepts that we must ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises can access the procurement process. I am sure that, when the forward work programme on the McClelland recommendations is announced, that matter will be addressed in it.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I hope that that will help and provide comfort, but we must bear in mind the slight difference between putting pressure on local authorities to save money through centralised contracts and legislative measures.

One reason why public procurement is so important in greening our economy is that it stimulates the market for renewable energy technologies and other green products. If the public sector in Scotland spends tens of millions or perhaps billions of pounds on green products, that will increase demand for products such as solar panels or other renewable energy technologies. Prices will fall, which will allow the general population in Scotland to access such products more easily, as they will be more affordable. That is one reason why it is so important that we use public sector finances on green procurement. We must also ensure that appropriate information is available to authorities through eco-labelling and that there is traceability, so that they know that products that they buy are genuinely green.

My amendment refers to the Environment and Rural Development Committee's report on its inquiry into climate change. I was a member of the committee when it produced that report, in which the committee expressed frustration about the difficulty of getting information from Government ministers on what progress has been made on using the Scottish budget to promote green procurement. I hope that the minister will address that issue in his closing speech.

I move amendment S2M-594.3, to insert at end:

"and further calls on the Executive to report to the Parliament, prior to dissolution, providing details of any measures taken, and their results, in response to the call made by the Environment and Rural Development Committee in its report published in May 2005 for public procurement to be used to tackle climate change."

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 9:32 am, 1st February 2007

I congratulate the Greens on devoting some of their debating time to the important issue of public procurement. I do not want to disturb Patrick Harvie too much, but there is a worrying degree of consensus in the Parliament on the importance of the issue and on the practical solutions that we want to be put in place.

The issue is one for the business sector, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, and for environmentalists, because many of the measures that we want to take to change procurement are driven by an environmental agenda. The procurement problem has two distinct elements. The first is the difficulties that businesses, especially small businesses or social enterprises, face in tendering for contracts as a result of the volume of bureaucracy that is involved. Many small companies simply do not have sufficient time or resources to go through a different application procedure with each and every public body with which they tender. One local authority will have a different set of procedures from the next, and the health boards, the Scottish Prison Service and the Executive will all have different procedures again. That creates a huge bureaucratic burden, particularly on small businesses, as larger enterprises can afford to employ dedicated procurement staff. Therefore, many small businesses simply opt out of bidding for procurement contracts, because it is not worth their while, which is a desperate pity.

I recently spoke to somebody in business who said that the best message that he can give to government is, "Don't give us a grant; give us an order." If the huge public sector spend could be divvied up a bit more fairly so that it reached more small businesses, the benefit to the Scottish economy would be tremendous, particularly through the support for the smaller business sector.

I acknowledge that the Executive is taking steps to address the problem through, for example, the introduction last January of the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006 and the Utilities Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006, and the work that John McClelland has done in his review. However, John McClelland identified problems throughout the public sector. He called the approach to procurement policy "fragmented" and said:

"Collaboration within organisations and across the sector ... has not been completely effective and must be improved."

He also said that the best examples of procurement policy had become mere "islands of excellence".

The second problem with procurement concerns the difficulties that some public agencies face. They often have the interests of small businesses at heart, but they are trying to administer contracts within the awkward straitjacket of European law and regulation.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

Murdo Fraser talks about the straitjacket of European regulations and, in particular, the European public procurement directive, which is mentioned in the Green motion. The directive does not allow discrimination on locality but allows it on environmental performance, which could include factors such as food miles and freshness, which would imply locality. Why does his amendment delete the call to make those environmental criteria mandatory, which would be the only way to ensure that local issues were part of contracts?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

There are different ways of approaching the issue. The problem is essentially that many public sector bodies are prepared to hide behind their interpretation of the European rules instead of trying to work their way round them. If Mark Ballard looks at our amendment, he will see that it calls for a dedicated procurement unit in the Executive, which would be tasked with finding ways round some of the European regulations. As Mr Ballard said, an examination of the detail of European regulations often reveals that there are ways to get round them, such as by raising environmental issues.

I will say a little bit abut how the Conservatives would address the problem. I mentioned our proposal for a new, dedicated procurement unit within the Executive. Such a unit would act as a single point of entry for the whole public sector and would process all the statutory requirements that a firm needed to fulfil before it was able to tender in a single step. The unit would also be charged with examining some of the more contentious aspects of procurement, such as aiding and encouraging social enterprises or small businesses in tendering and, of course, the promotion of local food, about which my colleague John Scott will talk more in a moment.

There is a general consensus on the issue and all parties are heading in the same direction. I am grateful to the Greens for allowing us the opportunity to debate these important subjects and I hope that the Executive will make more concrete proposals for improving the situation.

I move amendment S2M-5494.2, to leave out from "and calls on" to end and insert:

"further regrets that, whilst there are some good examples of local food procurement in Scotland, as the Environment and Rural Development Committee's 8th Report (2006) notes, 'there is no sense that the Executive has a robust strategy for rolling this out'; further regrets the bureaucratic hurdles faced, especially by small and social firms, in tendering for public contracts, and therefore calls on the Scottish Executive to establish a dedicated procurement unit to act as a single point of entry for the public sector and to be tasked with taking forward ways of procuring local produce without contravening European law."

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour 9:37 am, 1st February 2007

I am pleased to open the debate for my party and I welcome the Green motion. However, we must recognise, as other members have done, that the debate cannot only be about the scented-candle thinking that might come out of sitting in a circle in the lotus position developing policy. There are elements of such thinking in what the Greens have said this morning, but procurement is extraordinarily complex and highly regulated. There is a considerable amount of legislation on it and it involves competing priorities. There is pressure from council tax payers and income tax payers to keep tax low and pressure from large corporations, which see opportunities to obtain business in large, aggregated contracts.

Procurement is about the practical application of the language of ambition, which is what we talk about when we discuss sustainable development. To date, the Executive has a commendable record on seeking to find a way through the minefield of regulation and legislation and on encouraging and helping to develop Scotland's businesses and companies.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

With the serenity of one who has never achieved the lotus position, I ask Christine May to acknowledge that what some have described as "islands of excellence" and others have termed single examples of good practice are not the norm. However comprehensive the Executive's suite of regulations and policy notes is, it is not having the desired impact throughout the public sector.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

I will talk not about an island of excellence but about a peninsula of excellence—Fife. When I found out that I was going to speak in the debate, I phoned up the chief procurement officer in Fife Council and asked for some statistics on how the council has performed under the guidance that is available to local authorities. In the financial year to the end of March 2006, 84 per cent of the £130 million of contracts on work, services and supplies that Fife Council let went to the private sector and 16 per cent went to internal contractors, who procured externally. That meant that £28.5 million went to the private sector in Fife and £52 million to companies throughout Scotland. That includes food contracts, the majority of which went to local companies.

Fife Council's procurement website—which, I accept, is currently under review—is targeted at small and medium-sized enterprises within Fife. It contains information on current tenders, a suppliers guide and the complete contract programme with values, information on when contracts will be let and details of whom to contact. The social and environmental criteria that are referred to in the European directive and the Green motion are fundamental features of Fife Council's contracting policy.

However, there is a lack of clarity in the current regulations and everybody would welcome clarification, although not everybody wants to be the first test case. We must ask how we can influence the buying policies of wholesalers with whom contracts—particularly food contracts—are let, because that is where the greatest opportunity for local small and medium-sized enterprises lies. As a Co-operative Party member, I encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to consider the opportunities for getting together under Co-operative Development Scotland to aggregate their power and increase business locally.

I am pleased to support the Executive's amendment.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 9:42 am, 1st February 2007

We have heard from Patrick Harvie about the opportunity that arises from the increased use of social and environmental clauses in public contracts. That opportunity is currently being wasted. We should not spend money to the detriment of social justice or environmental protection and sustainability. In other words, we should not invest in things that will not produce future sustainability. The Executive's rhetoric makes it plain how much it values—or claims to value—progress towards a sustainable Scotland. However, some of the money that is spent in our name—in fact, too much of it—remains part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Patrick Harvie spoke about his experiences with the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill, which is currently going through Parliament. The guidelines on green procurement have failed to have the desired effect and the problem clearly goes far beyond the sourcing of healthy food for school meals. I will consider a closely related issue: the provision of cooking facilities in new schools throughout Scotland. I have learned that some brand new schools are being built without proper cooking kitchen facilities. Instead, they are being designed with simple provisions to heat up pre-packaged school meals that will be imported from elsewhere, on the Edinburgh royal infirmary model, which is widely disparaged.

Two issues concern me. First, although there is no doubt that such a school will cost less to construct than one with the kind of kitchen that all schools used to have and that that will save public money now, we need to look beyond the capital cost of buildings and focus on the whole-life costs and the long-term savings. That consideration should include, for example, insulation and the kind of heating that school buildings have. What are the real costs of buying pre-cooked meals that were frozen in a factory and brought in on a truck and which contribute nothing to the local economy? Unless we take a close look at the long-term financial implications, we cannot possibly take advantage of the real, sustainable best value that sustainable procurement can offer.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

What information does the Scottish Green Party have on the local and national impact that changing school building contracts to require a kitchen in every unit would have on taxation?

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

We do not have any; we are flagging up the problem. That is a tacit admission that there is a problem to be solved. Perhaps the Executive needs to address it.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Does Mr Harper agree that Christine May might get the answer to her question if she read the evidence that was submitted to Communities Committee? Under the contracts, people cannot even change a plug point let alone put in a new kitchen.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

You have about a minute and a half left, Mr Harper.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I must continue quickly, then.

As Christine Grahame has just pointed out, once a school has been built with such facilities, the door has essentially been closed on any opportunity to provide children with locally sourced, freshly prepared, healthy school meals.

Mark Ruskell has spent a great deal of time in the past couple of years campaigning for sustainable energy systems to be installed in high schools in north Perthshire, an area that is blessed with abundant forestry. A biomass heating scheme would lend itself admirably to a new school project but, although highly economical to run, such a system would cost more to install. However, it would be investing for the future.

We acknowledge that the Executive recently created a relatively small but nevertheless welcome biomass fund, which is a step in the right direction. However, the money is limited, and too many schools and other public buildings will continue to receive heating systems that are cheap to install but expensive and environmentally unsustainable to run.

I wish that we could be like the London borough of Merton, which four years ago challenged everybody on the issue. It was taken to court, but it won all the cases. It now insists on green energy contracts for all new buildings that are built in the borough, so that 10 per cent of the energy comes from sustainable sources. It had the courage to challenge the regulations. Realising that it is a question not so much of a way round but of a way through the regulations is important.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 9:47 am, 1st February 2007

I thank the Green party for introducing the debate today. Whatever the result of the vote, we are all singing off the same sheet. The process of the debate itself is constructive and takes the Parliament a step in the right direction.

I want to speak about the potential of Scotland to promote corporate social responsibility—a subject that is close to my and other people's hearts. The Greens and others have previously said that it is regarded as something of a panacea, but that is unfair to the many businesses in Scotland that are showing leadership by implementing innovative practices and making a difference with their environmental and social practices. Some would like to beat business with a stick, but I feel that we are better to offer a carrot.

Procurement can be a great driver in corporate social responsibility. The corporate responsibility coalition—CORE—campaign to apply ethical criteria to procurement is gathering momentum in Scotland, with Oxfam and no less than 130 other charities supporting it. However, such measures should not preach virtue to business, but should demonstrate that it is of benefit to business. The most successful businesses are those that put their financial, social and environmental concerns together to make a triple bottom line. Such an approach motivates and improves the productivity of staff—an area that in Scotland we need to improve. It cuts the costs of running a business by producing less waste and using less energy. The lean manufacturing initiative run by Scottish Enterprise has helped numerous companies to improve their operations in that way. That approach can also improve links with the community, creating trust in and support for the company and the people who work for it.

As I know from personal experience, often the smallest businesses reap the biggest benefits from adopting such practices. With a procurement policy that encourages businesses with sustainable policies, we could increase the number of small innovative businesses that gain contracts in the public sector. Social enterprises would also benefit, as responsible practices are a precursor to their business model, and we should support them in every possible way and promote them more seriously as a business model. That task is being undertaken at the moment, and we are seeing steps in the right direction, but the Executive should not lose sight of it.

As individual MSPs in our constituencies, we should be mindful of green procurement. Returning to Patrick Harvie's motion, and as Christine May rightly pointed out when she mentioned Fife, measures can be taken at a local level, often with MSP input. I have no reason to believe that that is not happening, especially considering Maureen Macmillan's point about high school food.

My Green colleague from the Highlands, Eleanor Scott, may be aware of one small example. The Forestry Commission Scotland has built an innovative new office near Bettyhill in Sutherland. It is made out of trees that were felled locally, moved a minimal distance and built into an office. She has probably visited it, but if not it is worth a visit. However, the point is that it is completely renewable and green and the timber was moved the least possible distance. There is great potential for housing, which we desperately need in the Highlands, to be built using that construction method. I encourage members in the Highlands to consider that. If we take a look in our own back yards, we will see opportunities and developments that we can take forward.

I will close at that point to give you extra time, Presiding Officer.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour 9:50 am, 1st February 2007

As someone who represents a region with many rural communities, I understand the importance of green procurement and its potential to encourage sustainable local industries.

The first issue that often comes to mind is the public procurement of food, because we have such a strong farming industry that is responsible for high-quality produce and high standards of animal welfare. In procuring local food, we make an important contribution to reducing our carbon footprint because of the smaller distances that produce has to travel to reach its point of consumption.

It is nonsensical on so many levels that we can go into supermarkets and see meat from South America or vegetables from the furthest corners of the world when there is so much high-quality local produce and such demand for local food from customers. It is right that many members encourage retailers to source more local produce, and it is important that we encourage public agencies to do the same.

I welcome the Green party giving us the chance to debate the issue, but although there is broad agreement across the chamber, I do not run with the negative aspects of the motion. It is clear that there is a genuine wish on the part of the Executive to encourage green procurement, and if the European Commission is now moving in that direction too, that is hugely welcome. However, let us not pretend that this is an easy area in which to implement policy.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Does the member agree with me, and clearly with the Minister for Education and Young People, who has lodged amendments to the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill, that green procurement needs a legislative footing? Does he agree that it should be applied throughout the public sector rather than just to school food?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

We have to pursue the most effective delivery route. Sometimes that is legislation, but other times we have too much legislation.

My point is that, for example, the document "Buying green!" states at the beginning that it is an indicative document. Of course there has to be care that the rules are being followed, because otherwise there are consequences, but that is not to say that real progress on green procurement cannot be made and that such progress is not being encouraged.

We have already heard from Christine May about the progress that is being made in the kingdom peninsula, and we have the potential to encourage green, local procurement through the establishment of co-operatives. In addition, the Executive has set up the co-operative development agency.

Fife is not an isolated example of where green procurement is being promoted locally. We have heard about case studies in East Ayrshire, which showed that it is possible to follow local food procurement policies with benefits for producers and for the quality and freshness of produce while still meeting European procurement rules. The Executive is working with the Association for Public Service Excellence, Scottish Enterprise's food and drink team and NFU Scotland to ensure that local authorities throughout Scotland, as well as food and farming interests, are aware of the findings of the case studies. I will press the issue with Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council, to ensure that they are aware of the case studies and are doing all that they can to engage in green procurement. There is a role for the Executive, but there is also a role for us as local members to work with our own local authorities.

In four minutes I do not have time to go through all the Executive's other activities on green procurement, but the minister has referred to them and they are many. Labour's policy states our belief that local authorities have a big role to play in addressing environmental issues, and we want to ensure that effective environmental procurement policies yield direct economic and social benefits to local authorities and communities. We are committed to the policy and are already promoting it through our work in the Executive, so let us recognise that the agenda is shared across the chamber and by the Executive. Not only is it good for Scotland's producers, it is good for Scotland as a whole and for the global environment. I commend the amendment in the name of the minister.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party 9:54 am, 1st February 2007

I, too, congratulate the Greens on securing the debate. It is easy to be totally supportive of green procurement, as there is an environmental rationale, a local rationale and a social rationale. Furthermore, from an economic perspective, there is the prospect of fostering more indigenous supply, bringing better produce to market, boosting the nutritional quality of produce and even boosting the tourism experience in Scotland. All of that is important, as is value retention and boosting the viability of local jobs and businesses. There is also the possibility of clawing back manufacturing and reworking, and triggering development, research and new start-ups. The Greens' bête noire, Bill Gates, claimed this week that the service sector is pretty much limitless. The same could be said for green procurement. It is, as the minister said, openly and provably EC-compliant. It is important that we encourage green procurement, which has the potential to deliver real benefits in Scotland that will increase over time.

However, we should not automatically assume that we will move enough people's views just by making the case and listing the advantages. The approach has to be sold and re-sold. Cost always creeps in to any spending decisions. It is important to make the environmental, social and business cases time and again, so that people understand the total cost of ownership, the total environmental cost and the total social cost. We must also get across the fact that lowest price rarely means best value. This morning, John Lewis emerged as the top store in a survey reported by the BBC. The store wears as a badge of pride the fact that although it always competes on price, it does not set out to have the lowest price; rather, it tries to bring good produce to the marketplace. This debate shows the importance of giving green procurement a much higher profile and influencing more people.

I have recently been reading a book by Fritjof Capra, who says that there is a difference between machines and human beings: we can change a machine—we can take a spanner to it—but we can only hope to disturb or provoke people. I look to my colleagues and others to help us build the case for disturbing more people on the issue, as Al Gore has done. That means getting people disturbed enough that they want to make a change and they feel that green procurement is sensible, rewarding, business strategic, socially strategic, locally strategic, planet strategic and their own idea. That is key. They must be disturbed enough to want to change and to translate their good intentions into long-term, committed action.

People do not resent change; it is more that they resent change being imposed upon them. If we can sell green procurement in a way that makes people understand all the advantages and come to the conclusion that it is their idea, we could have a genuine bandwagon effect.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

Does Jim Mather agree that people should be much more disturbed by the Scottish National Party's policy of freezing council tax, with the implications that that would have for procurement?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I just hope that the member gets a tick in her report card for that and improves her chance of a job at some point. At least two months are left for that opportunity to arise.

Essentially, we are talking about ensuring that we present a positive case for green procurement. We must try to take a genuine partnership approach, in which green suppliers become an indispensable part of the end product that is delivered to customers. I would like suppliers to adopt good business practice to make it easier to do business over time. Green procurement is a golden opportunity for Scotland to retain wealth and business in Scotland. It is also a golden opportunity for many local suppliers to spring up, offer goods and services that compete with bigger firms, and win that business. I am happy, therefore, to support the amendment in Richard Lochhead's name.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 9:58 am, 1st February 2007

All the members who have spoken have made interesting speeches, and constructive ideas have been presented. The Greens deserve credit for securing the debate.

I shall concentrate on a few points. First, we must give far more consideration to the way in which public contracts are organised, from the point of view of their size and conditions. The minister is right to say that we are doing quite a lot in that direction, but we have to do more to ensure that contracts are organised in a way that enables small social enterprises and other small companies—which are not big or complex—to compete. In addition, perhaps working through chambers of commerce, we should support the provision of, for example, bonds and insurance, which are often problems for small companies. We can help small companies and social enterprises in that way.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Would small architectural firms in particular be helped if the huge insurance indemnity that they are supposed to put up before they even bid for contracts in Scotland was removed?

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

I have not addressed that issue, but I am sure that it is important and that the minister will consider it.

Secondly, although there has been a lot of improvement in being realistic about best value, it is still seen purely in terms of money, particularly in councils and health boards. We must develop a system in which the soft aspects of contracts are taken into account, so that if, for example, someone is providing meals on wheels, support for the recipient and the friendly contact is part of the deal. That is as important as the price of the meal. We should have a more enlightened attitude. I know that the audit bodies accept that, but a lot of people who give out contracts do not.

As other members have said, there is great reluctance among small organisations—commercial or social—to get involved in contracts, because they see the whole thing as a jungle. If one is confronted by a jungle, one needs a guide. We should provide more people like Pocahontas or Minnehaha—the redskins—who actually know their way through the jungle, to help the small firms to understand the whole process.

At the moment, we build a lot of awful, seriously defective houses, schools and hospitals. We could work with bodies such as the National House-Building Council and give them more muscle to create good standards and more frequent inspections, so that builders take insulation and microgeneration, for example, more seriously. Likewise, we should build carefully designed schools, hospitals and other buildings that take account of the points that Robin Harper raised. Whatever procurement method is used, it should provide buildings that are good value over a long period and not just the cheapest at the time. We need a bit of farsightedness. That is difficult for politicians, especially when many of them are facing an election in a month or two.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Would Donald Gorrie care to reflect on a term he used that might prove offensive to Native Americans or First Nations people?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

That is a political matter, which is for Mr Gorrie's conscience and wisdom to address. It is not for me to rule on.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour 10:03 am, 1st February 2007

Like other members, I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. I thank the Greens for bringing the issue to the chamber.

For me, procurement begins at an individual level. The choices that we make as individuals in our households about the types of goods and services that we purchase set the tone as a nation. On our shopping choices, do we shop locally on our local high street? Do we use our local farmers market? Do we make those choices or do we allow the supermarkets to maintain their hold by our refusal to set the example that we should set?

In food terms, for me, locally produced food is tastier and fresher. It is the kind of food that I want to buy. That is the choice that I want to make. There is more that we can do as MSPs, as a Government and as a country to encourage people to shop locally. We need to address prices. There is still more to be done on organic farming and making organic food more affordable to local people. Those of us who can afford it are making those choices.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Does Karen Gillon concede that food issues highlight one of the great hypocrisies at the heart of the matter? Although the Scottish food production industry offers the highest welfare and environmental standards anywhere in the world, as her colleague Richard Baker mentioned earlier, it has to compete in an open marketplace on price, which is a handicap. That hypocrisy must be dealt with and that additional cost must be fed into the system.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

The member must also reflect on the fact that Scottish farmers compete throughout Europe on price and quality. We have to be careful in whatever we do that we do not preclude them from entering those markets and competing in the same way as others. Price is an issue for local people and for public procurement My colleague Christine May spoke about the issues in Fife. There are examples of green procurement throughout Scotland. Patrick Harvie spoke about the East Ayrshire example, which is a good benchmark of what can be done through positive local decision making, sourcing products from local producers and, in turn, building on the local economy.

I welcome the changes that will be made under the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill. That is the right way to go to give our young people the best possible chance in life of accessing locally sourced food and products. People's tastebuds change as a result of the food they eat. If they eat processed food, they taste it as normal; if they eat fresh garden produce, they taste that as normal.

I take a different line to my colleague Christine May on hospitals. We could do more in hospital food procurement. People are at their lowest ebb when they are in hospital. When they are sick, we should provide them with the best and most nutritious food that we can. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that that is sometimes done by a cook in a kitchen downstairs producing food when people are looking for it—it should be fresh, warm, wholesome and locally sourced. We can do more in that area and we must continue to look at ways to do so.

I will support the amendment in the minister's name. I welcome the steps that have been taken by the Executive, but none of us in the chamber can be complacent. We all need to look to ourselves and our local authorities to find out what we can do collectively to encourage local production and ensure that we have a viable local industry, whether that is in farming, building or any other service, so that we can have local procurement. I encourage the Executive to keep pushing the boundaries as far as it can.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative 10:07 am, 1st February 2007

This has been a worthwhile debate on green procurement. Despite the rather awkward title, like Murdo Fraser, I congratulate the Scottish Green Party on raising the subject. Richard Lochhead noted the breakout of consensus.

As Murdo Fraser said, I will speak mainly about food procurement, as it is a subject close to my heart and is one on which I declare an interest—I refer members to my entry in the register of members' interests.

It is appropriate to reflect on the success or otherwise of existing Executive general procurement policies. Conservatives feel that more could and should be done, particularly for small businesses in Scotland, to reduce the red tape in the process and to give them greater ability to tender for contracts. Donald Gorrie noted that too.

The McClelland report noted the well-intentioned Executive progress in public procurement, including the e-procurement Scotland service, but concluded that collaboration within organisations and across sectors had not been completely effective and had to improve. Patrick Harvie, George Lyon, Richard Lochhead and Murdo Fraser all referred to that. Nowhere is that more true than in public food procurement.

Going back to May 2004, Andy Kerr announced the sustainable food and catering procurement guidelines at the "Delivering Change" conference. The guidelines essentially instruct public purchasers, including schools, hospitals and prisons, to buy fresh, seasonal, quality-assured produce when negotiating for catering contracts.

In Shiona Baird's debate on supporting local producers on 4 May 2005, I raised public food procurement and the minister Lewis Macdonald responded positively. He highlighted research that the Government appeared to accept would help to break down barriers to local food procurement but, sadly, nothing much has happened since then, notwithstanding George Lyon's claims and Christine May's peninsula of excellence. I say to the minister that guidance is not delivering as well as it could.

In June 2006, the Environment and Rural Development Committee emphasised in its report on the food supply chain the need for the Executive to provide more encouragement in the area. Robin Harper referred to that. However, progress has been glacial. In autumn 2006, I raised local food procurement through motion S2M-4590 at a members' business debate. The motion was supported by 35 members throughout the chamber, who acknowledged that farmers markets are just the starting point in local food procurement.

Consensus exists in the Parliament to do something, as the minister acknowledged. There is consensus that local food procurement for local people must happen as it does in the East Ayrshire project. I hope that today's debate will bring that a stage nearer, as Richard Baker reflected. A way needs to be found to bring suppliers and purchasers together for the benefit of consumers and producers alike. One way to achieve that lies in proposals that have been lodged by the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society with the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department.

The minister knows that I had extensive discussions with SEERAD staff on how to enhance food networks to match up businesses of all sizes with the demands of different consumers. In addition, the cross-party group on food produced a paper on local food procurement, particularly through local food co-operatives. That model could be adopted and expanded into a national procurement network that supplies many more customers.

If we are really serious about local food procurement, centralised warehousing and distribution systems will be required in the long term with suitable transport capability. That should progress on a co-operative basis, using the SAOS as an adviser, because it has the established expertise to deliver such a national scheme. Christine May apparently supported that.

Local food procurement is an idea whose time has come—indeed, it came some time ago. We need action now to benefit consumers and producers alike, as well as to reduce our ecological footprint and provide more, healthier and fresher food for the people of Scotland. I ask members to support our amendment.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 10:12 am, 1st February 2007

The SNP welcomes the debate, which has been, in the main, consensual, apart from a tiny hiccup from Christine May. I commend John Scott on his noted appearances at Ayr farmers market—my sister keeps me in touch with that.

We will not support the Conservative amendment; notwithstanding my colleague Richard Lochhead's comments, we will abstain on it. Although its sentiment is correct, it would delete worthy points from the Green motion—for which we thank Mark Ballard—which we will support. We will reject the Government amendment, because although there are also some good words in it, we agree with Patrick Harvie that the Executive's good-practice guidance is not being taken up throughout Scotland, notwithstanding the shining example of the kingdom of Fife.

Patrick Harvie and others mentioned the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill. Although we on the Communities Committee have received evidence from the Soil Association about good practice in East Ayrshire, issues about bulk purchasing, which have been addressed by others in the chamber, have been raised by the Scottish Consumer Council. Bulk purchasing flies in the face of purchasing locally. I will speak about value for money shortly, because I want to examine the dividends from local purchases that other members have mentioned, which include employment, quality, freshness and the carbon footprint.

Sticking with food for the moment, we must make children aware of where their food comes from. It does not simply come from the freezer and the microwave; it was something else before it got to the freezer, and we can do things other than microwave it. Some children do not even know where eggs come from. We have to educate children so that they know what they are eating. That is important for the good of our society.

From food to fabric. Patrick Harvie raised issues about buildings, which were also touched on by Robin Harper. I would like builders to access local sympathetic materials. I am weary of the ugly march of the ubiquitous Legoland houses that are a blight on the landscape. Let us see builders purchasing locally and building with materials that are sympathetic to the landscape, as they used to.

That was a short digression. I return to the mantra of value for money. I would like the minister to define value, which was also mentioned by Donald Gorrie. It is not just about money. For example, Orkney Islands Council tries to purchase as much as possible locally in the interests of the sustainability of the Orkney Islands community. To the best of my knowledge, the national health service in Wales also endeavours to purchase its food locally. I fear that, in Scotland, the Government considers the cost of everything but not the value. Local authorities and NHS boards are paranoid about being prosecuted under EU regulations. I agree that that mindset must be challenged. I am not talking about working our way around the rules; I am talking about using the rules to our advantage.

In that regard, I will give an example of bad practice, featuring Scottish Borders Council and NHS Borders, which cancelled a long-standing contract for stationery and overprinting and gave the contract to a company in France. Apparently, that represented value for money, but what was the cost? It was more than 30 local jobs—30 people who are now out of work. That is not joined-up thinking, nor is it value for money.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 10:16 am, 1st February 2007

This has been a good debate, with reasonable consensus around the chamber about the need to go further in green procurement. Patrick Harvie highlighted the key issue, which is the need to use the spending power of the public sector to drive forward that agenda. We must be seen to lead on this agenda.

Richard Lochhead highlighted another key issue when he said that increased demand from the public sector for sustainable products will help to lower their cost. That is key in terms of the cost of solar panels, small renewable energy generators and so on. If we can increase the demand for all those products, which currently add a lot to the basic cost of building a house, their cost will come down rapidly, which will make them more affordable and ensure that they deliver best value for money.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I have not got a lot of time, so if Richard Lochhead does not mind, I will address other points that were made in the debate.

Murdo Fraser and John Scott highlighted the problems that small and medium-sized enterprises have in bidding for contracts—many enterprises opt not to bid because of the complexity and difficulty of the procedure. We have acknowledged that that is a problem and that opportunities to consolidate and co-ordinate the process exist, which is why we are currently working to set up a procurement portal that should open up opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises. We are working with the Confederation of British Industry Scotland, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses on standardising the documentation that is used in the tendering process to try to ensure that their members get access to bidding on contracts.

We all want to ensure that we use taxpayers' money wisely to deliver high-quality and cost- effective public services. In other words, we want procurement to deliver value for money. It is important to accept, however, that that is not about what costs least; it is about delivering good value as sustainably as possible. One of the best ways in which to achieve that is by ensuring that policy and guidance reflect best practice, which should be shared among all those who need to interpret and apply it. To that end, the Executive's website is a valuable resource: advice there clearly states how and when environmental and social criteria can be included.

The motion suggests that our guidance should be mandatory and that we should instruct local authorities and public bodies accordingly. As our guidance explains, environmental criteria may be taken into account to the extent that they are relevant to the particular contract. The relevance of the criteria vary from contract to contract, which is why I remain to be convinced that a mandatory approach would be appropriate.

Karen Gillon said that we cannot be complacent. We are not, which is why the Executive is committed to producing a Scottish sustainable procurement action plan later in the year. That plan will build on our achievements and take into account the outcomes of the United Kingdom sustainable procurement task force and the recommendations in John McClelland's report. Continued work with the bodies that I mentioned earlier will help us to make further progress towards mainstreaming sustainable procurement throughout the public sector.

I believe that there are benefits to be gained from the Executive's approach—we have already delivered some successful outcomes. For example, 100 per cent of the Executive's electricity comes from renewable resources, 70 per cent of all of the stationery products that were used by the Executive in 2006 were environmentally preferred options and all our general office copier paper is manufactured from 100 per cent recycled materials. Furthermore, all Scottish school public-private partnership projects have now to follow new policy guidelines that have been issued by the Minister for Environment and Rural Development, which state that public sector building should contain a minimum of 10 per cent recyclate in its construction.

The Executive will continue to lead from the front in securing green procurement across the public sector. Our track record demonstrates the progress that we have made and the lead that we have given. Therefore, I ask members to support the amendment in our name.

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green 10:21 am, 1st February 2007

This good debate has shown that a consensual debate can still be interesting and enjoyable. It has allowed members to air their own procurement interests; for example, it has allowed Patrick Harvie to mention IT, Robin Harper to mention school kitchens and John Scott to mention food procurement, in which he has an on-going interest. I will, therefore, spend a minute ranting about paper, which George Lyon touched on in his closing speech.

Scotland consumes about 1.5 million tonnes of paper a year and far too much of it—about half—is made from trees, all of which are grown in other people's forests. Forest degradation is a major contributor to climate change on the planet, so we have a global responsibility to reduce our footprint on other country's forests. The best way to do that is to use recycled rather than virgin paper. Only a few sorts of paper need to be made from tree fibres and those that are should be recyclable. Each fibre should have nine lives, like a cat—legal paper, then office paper, then the other side of office paper, then recycled office paper, then the other side again, then magazine paper, then newspaper paper, then newspaper paper again, then loo roll. All toilet roll and tissues should be made of 100 per cent recycled fibres. There is no excuse for flushing virgin tree fibres down the loo.

Recycling paper uses much less energy than producing paper from virgin fibre—between a sixth and a third less, depending on the type of paper. It requires less than half as much water, produces far fewer greenhouse gases, emits a tiny fraction of the toxic chemicals to air and water and is, generally, much less damaging to the environment.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

Is the member familiar with the project at Smith Anderson Packaging in my constituency in Fife, in which juice cartons are recycled to produce suspension folders that are used for filing in places such as the Scottish Executive?

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green

That is another example from the "peninsula"—or, possibly, kingdom—"of excellence", which Christine May spoke about earlier.

We have made a splendid effort in increasing the amount of paper that we recover instead of sending it to landfill. That is excellent, except that it is not recycled here but is increasingly sold to China for reprocessing—five times as much now as was the case four years ago—because we have fewer than 2,000 reprocessing facilities in Scotland. That makes no sense. We must encourage reprocessing in Scotland, and the best way to do that is to support the market for recycled products. Public procurement has a big part to play in that. Just think how much paper the public sector uses. It is not enough to chuck our paper into the recycling bin; we must close the loop by buying recycled paper.

George Lyon praised the Executive's record on green procurement. Actually, that record is not too bad—although it could be better—but that is not really what we are getting at. Our concern is what happens in other public bodies. In the debate, we are not arguing with Executive policy; we are agreeing with it. We are asking the Executive to put its heart and soul—and, maybe, a small amount of extra resources—into making its vision happen. The green aspects in the procurement policies in the Executive's website and the best-value toolkit are aspirational in tone but weak in detail. In contrast, the EU's guidelines on sustainable procurement give examples of writing green issues into contracts.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I accept that we can strongly drive the agenda within public agencies, but we must acknowledge that local authorities are self-standing bodies. We need political buy-in at that level to ensure that the agenda can be delivered. The McClelland report and the discussions that McClelland is having with local authorities are important in trying to get agreement on how we implement and mainstream green procurement throughout the Executive and public agencies.

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green

I agree, but local authorities look to the Executive for political leadership on the matter.

Sustainable procurement is covered in chapter 7 of the best-value guidance, so we have read six chapters before we get to it. It states:

"This means ... That 'quality of life' indicators are identified to measure performance in contributing to the achievement of sustainable development and reported to the public."

The problem is that that is very aspirational. It is not practical and not specific.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

Does Eleanor Scott agree with my comment about corporate social responsibility? Does she agree that offering rewards to businesses is one way to encourage what she is talking about?

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green

I do not disagree with that.

George Lyon talked about a suite of guidance, but it is not a matching three-piece suite. It is more like a lot of bits and pieces that have been collected over the years. Although I am in favour of recycling, it is now time to replace those things, so I welcome the idea of a procurement portal.

At present, a procurement officer who wants to improve his or her green buying practices needs extraordinary personal dedication and initiative. We heard about some examples, but the fact is that they are just examples. Everybody looks at the East Ayrshire food example with awe and wonder as well as with admiration, but that approach should be the norm. We are asking not for something new but simply for the best to be rolled out everywhere. We need a culture shift towards green thinking in procurement—in our view that can best be achieved through mandatory social and environmental goals and a proactive Government strategy of support.

George Lyon said that we must consider the relevance of environmental criteria, but it is hard to think of a case in which environmental criteria would not be relevant. I would be interested to hear an example of a case in which environmental and sustainability criteria were not relevant.

We are not asking for anything unreasonable; we ask only that the Executive's stated goal of working towards sustainable development be helped, not hindered, by public procurement. Ultimately, if we are not spending public money for the wider public good, we are missing a trick. If we are serious about getting the best value for money in the long term, if we are serious about bringing down the cost of sustainable technologies, if we are serious about tackling climate change and improving energy efficiency and—crucially—if we are serious about putting our money where our mouth is, green procurement is a must.

Scottish ministers are great at talking the talk on sustainability, but far too often the reality of public spending fails to live up to their lofty rhetoric. Let us ensure that the money that is spent in our name is part of the solution and not part of the problem.