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BEST (Benefiting the Economy and Society Through) Procurement

Partnership information


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BEST Procurement is a major initiative led by Social Enterprise East Midlands (SEEM), bringing together a partnership of agencies from the public sector, social enterprise support organisations and experts, and social enterprises themselves. SEEM is the regional voice for social enterprise. Its aim is to create an environment where social enterprises are encouraged to develop and enabled to grow. 

The public sector is one of the largest purchasers of goods and services in the UK and is the main customer for many of the services that social enterprises offer today. With a focus on best value for money spent, public sector agencies increasingly are required to achieve additional social, environmental and community benefits through their procurement function. This represents a unique opportunity for social enterprises, with their social, environmental and community focus, to increase their role as suppliers to the public sector.


BEST Procurement aims to improve the correlation between public sector expenditure and public benefit, positioning social enterprise as a key delivery vehicle in achieving this goal. It focuses on social enterprise because of the potential to contribute to improved labour market equality through challenging and enhancing standard labour market practices and delivering services in an inclusive way.


  • Assist social enterprises in developing their capacity as suppliers for the public sector

  • Provide public sector agencies the opportunity to test innovative approaches towards achieving broader public benefit through mainstream expenditure

  • Act as a clearing house for market intelligence on public sector demand and the supply of sustainable business solutions in the East Midlands, enabling social enterprises and public sector agencies to identify relevant opportunities


  • Providing in-depth evidence in response to key questions such as “How can public sector expenditure be used more efficiently while achieving better social outcomes?” and “What added social value do social enterprises offer as suppliers?”
  • Disseminating practice in the form of tools and reports to support further work on achieving public benefit through procurement in a policy and practice context.

Target Groups 

The social enterprises working in the East Midlands




Round 1 to Round 2

Social Enterprise East Midlands (SEEM) was the lead partner in Round One where work focused on creating a network to provide practical support to social enterprises in the East Midlands which in turn laid the foundations for the Round Two focus on policy.

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All enquiries, Social Enterprise East Midlands (SEEM),


Action 2: 30 November 2007
Action 3: 31 March 2008

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Social economy


SEEM (Social Enterprise East Midlands) had observed the empty rhetoric about procurement and social enterprise and set a strategic aim to development the movement. It became apparent from early research that current materials and support systems to help social enterprises to develop were insufficient in themselves. SEEM initiated a major consultation exercise with a brief to set up a partnership which would find out how to do it and inform the development of better practice and policy. The aim was to work out the practicalities of making it real for both the demand and supply side, and to inform sound evidence-based policy making. The initial briefing paper created much interest from a wide variety of public organisations who were interested in forming a partnership to examine the issues and discover and fill the gaps to make procurement strategies work with social enterprise.


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Social enterprises secure £2.4m contracts.

The incubation project, led by Genesis Social Enterprise Centre, invested £160,000 in setting up five social enterprises that have already secured £1.6 million contracts from public sector operating in a range of fields and creating quality inclusive employment. They project to secure up to a further £2.4 million contracts in the next six months.

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Replication of alternative education centres

The Unique Network developed an approach to replication, supported by Leicester Community action Network. The Unique Network has already successfully supported a new alternative education centre in Gainsborough to open in September 2007. The second centre will be opened in Northampton in January 2008. These centres provide alternative education, drop in facilities and employment in disadvantaged areas.

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Publication of major resource to support social innovation.

The partnership has published “Social Enterprise and the Public Sector- A Practical Guide to Law and Policy”. This document is a major new resource for those in the public sector who want to support social innovation and covers Procurement and broader Commissioning topics. It also covers topics that may be useful to social enterprises. It was developed as a response to all the problems and barriers the Partnership came across in the course of their work and was written by market leaders Anthony Collins Solicitors

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Achieving policy through procurement

The Partnership developed a lot of new practice with respect to achieving policy through procurement. The partnership integrated social enterprise into approaches to sustainable procurement developed by Forum for the Future, tested with the local authority and NHS partners and being rolled out nationally. Northampton County Council Developed a specification writing toolkit to assist those looking to maximize the social, environmental and economic benefits of their procurement. Nottingham City Council became a pathfinder for the “local area pathfinders” project examining successful approaches to working with the third sector.

Intended impact/ sustainability

This DP is founded on the principle of putting good policy into practice and informing the development of better policy through evidence. In particular, it has been working to refine the way efficiency is interpreted by purchasers in the public sector and to engender a shift in thinking about the contribution social enterprise can make to sustainable procurement. By examining a fundamentally different way of doing business, they are fostering a new understanding of what social enterprise can bring to the local economy. Price is not the only consideration; rather, social issues are addressed by looking at wider policy issues. The work of the DP also informs the support of social enterprises in a way that enables them to compete in this market place.

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Process X X
Practice X X
Product X X
Policy X X
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1. The DP has been working with three local authorities, various local health authorities and the National Offender Management Service to develop the thinking about what they are buying and the impact this has on their policy outcomes. Work has focused on corporate policies and the contribution that procurement practices have made. 2. Research is underway to identify effective processes for developing market intelligence and inform opportunities for social enterprise.


A longitudinal study is underway at local level with a number of social enterprises at various stages of development, to investigate the impact of engaging with the public sector. The study has focused on the difference this engagement makes to their business and the nature of their experiences on this journey. Under what circumstances is a financial relationship (including through procurement) of benefit to both parties?


Partners within the DP have been developing a range of services to support social enterprises, contracting know-how training and evaluating enterprising ideas, etc.


The work of the DP has produced examples of the added value of social enterprise procurement and specific ways in which this approach can impact on the economy of the region.


As a result of the services trialed by the DP partners, products to support and embed those services have been created which relate to information services about finding existing small contracts, providing brokerage services, contracting know-how training, evaluating enterprising ideas, etc.


The DP will produce a study of the attitudes to social issues in contracting in Member States.


The DP has links to National policy processes, for example, through the Social Enterprise Coalition. One of the Partners in the DP is a participant in the Local Authority Third Sector Pathfinder project. The DP compiled the response to the recent Joint Note on Social Issues in Contracting on behalf of the Coalition (see Products). The DP is also engaging in dialogue with and lobbying the Sustainable Procurement Task Force which includes key policy makers and influencers (see Products).


A DP partner is involved in the European Co-operative Initiative on public sector procurement.

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Main outputs

Activities and products