Sustainable development in economic appraisals

This page provides guidance on how to address sustainable development within appraisals.

2.7 Sustainable development

2.7.14 Sustainable development can be defined as "development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (The Brundtland Report: "Our Common Future" - the Report of the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development). Sustainability is not just about protecting the environment, it is about ensuring stable social and economic growth for all. For this reason Sustainable Development is often defined as being based on three main pillars:

  • social (people)
  • environmental (planet)
  • economic (prosperity)

2.7.15 There is now a statutory duty on public authorities to promote sustainable development. This new duty is given legal force in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006, which was introduced following the publication of A Sustainable Development Strategy for Northern Ireland: First Steps towards Sustainability in March 2006.

2.7.16 OFMDFM updated the Sustainable Development Strategy in May 2010 with the publication of "Everyone's Involved Sustainable Development Strategy".  This document reinforces the Executives' commitment to sustainable development and sets out a number of new priority areas for action and a number of strategic objectives to achieve in the pursuit of sustainable development.  The new strategy reiterates that all new strategies and policies should be subject to a 'sustainability scan' as part of the impact assessment process (see 2.7.19).  Moreover the strategy makes a commitment to ensure that policy, strategy, procurement and investment decisions taken by government are based on strategic consideration of their 'whole life' consequences and to measure this against the achievement of long-term economic, social and environmental impacts.

2.7.17 DAO(DFP)05/08 introduced departments to specific guidance produced by the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on "Equality of Opportunity and Sustainable Development in Public Sector Procurement". The purpose of this guidance is to embed consideration of equality of opportunity and sustainable development into procurement practice. The guidance states that Northern Ireland procurement policy recognises that the primary objective should be to achieve best value for money, defined as "the optimum combination of whole life cost and quality (or fitness of purpose) to meet the customer's requirements." [Note: In November 2010 the NI Procurement Board revised this definition to “the most advantageous combination of cost, quality and sustainability to meet customer requirements.”]. This definition was drawn up to stress that value for money does not mean lowest price. Any procurement must meet its requirements for equality of opportunity and sustainable development to be deemed good quality and fit for purpose. Sustainable development must be considered at the outset of any procurement process and then throughout the life of the project.

2.7.18 This guidance provides a step by step guide to integrating sustainable development and equality of opportunity into procurement projects from the strategic development stage right through to contract management. It applies equally to large and small procurements and irrespective of the form of procurement, but is to be applied with proportionate effort. The full text is available at the Equality of Opportunity and Sustainable Development in Public Procurement page of the CPD website.

Screening for sustainability

2.7.19 The initial planning stage in any project offers the widest scope for including sustainable development goals and the maximum potential for impact. The first step is to screen projects to identify whether they are likely to have a significant sustainability impact. All options should initially be screened against a number of potential social, economic and environmental impacts. Further details on these impacts and a framework for screening are set out in Workbook 4 of OFMDFM's Policy Toolkit

2.7.20 This Toolkit was designed primarily for assessing policies but states that it "can also be applied to individual projects where this is appropriate". Under the guidance issued with DAO(DFP)05/08, it is now a requirement to assess sustainability for every procurement project, so screening by reference to the Toolkit should be undertaken in every case. However, as with other aspects of appraisal, the principle of proportionate effort should be applied.

2.7.21The DAO letter and associated guidance refer specifically to public procurement projects i.e. projects involving the acquisition, usually by means of a contractual arrangement after public competition, of goods, services, works and other supplies by the public service. It does not apply to other expenditures such as, for example, revenue spending proposals and grants to the non-government sectors (i.e. the private, voluntary and community sectors). However, such expenditures may also give rise to sustainability issues and these should be screened and assessed where they are considered relevant and significant.

Sustainability impact assessment

2.7.22 Screening of options should help to identify those potential impacts which are relevant and those which are significant enough to deserve fuller assessment. Impact assessment provides the framework for carrying out the fuller assessment. Workbook 4 of the Policy Toolkit supplies advice on how to carry out impact assessment.

2.7.23 The effort to be put into impact assessment should reflect the scale and importance of the proposal and the impacts under consideration. The policy toolkit recommends that a full impact assessment should be carried out for the preferred option when assessing policies. However, when dealing with individual projects, there is no general requirement to undertake a full impact assessment. Options should always be screened for sustainability impacts, but detailed impact assessment should only be carried out for any option where the effort is judged worthwhile by reference to the relevance and significance of the impacts in view. Where different options have different impacts on sustainability, the assessment should make the differences clear.

2.7.24 Further advice on the statutory duty of promoting sustainable development and the associated screening and impact assessment process can be obtained from the Sustainable Development Unit in TEO.

Social clauses in public procurement contracts

2.7.25 The Programme for Government includes a commitment to “include social clauses in all public procurement contracts for supplies, services and construction.” Arising from this, DoF’s Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) issued procurement guidance note PGN 01/13 on integrating social considerations into contracts.

2.7.26 Where social considerations are to be incorporated into procurement, then these should be identified in the business case. NIGEAE explains how social considerations should be addressed in the course of the initial strategic option appraisal. The opportunity to consider social considerations arises at two main stages:

  • at the earliest stages, when determining the strategic context, the need for the project, and the project objectives - that is, NIGEAE steps one to three (for example, social needs and objectives may be framed in terms of improving health, transport, education or training)
  • when assessing the costs and benefits of alternative options. Social impacts will be considered at NIGEAE Step 7 when weighing up non-monetary costs and benefits. This will include assessing how the various options perform against the social objectives set at the beginning of the appraisal; and there is also specific provision for screening for sustainability and equal opportunity impact and, where appropriate, conducting sustainability or equality impact assessments.

2.7.27 Having identified the need which the procurement will address, completed the business case and obtained expenditure approval, Departments should work with the appropriate Centre of Procurement Expertise (CoPE) to agree a specification for the procurement. This is the appropriate time to begin considering in detail what social clauses to include in the contract, bearing in mind the PfG commitment to “include social clauses in all public procurement contracts for supplies, services and construction”.

2.7.28 It is important to identify the approach to including social considerations in contracts at the earliest possible stage, to help ensure that the business case and procurement strategy are developed to maximise the benefits delivered by contracts.

Assessing and documenting sustainable development in business cases for procurement projects

2.7.29 DoF wrote to NI Departments in December 2014 reminding them that sustainable development must be considered at the outset of any procurement process and then throughout the life of the project; and that social clauses (or "community benefit clauses") must be included in all public procurement contracts. It also clarified how to record consideration of these factors in a proportionate manner in business cases and introduced a checklist to be included in all business cases for procurement projects requiring DoF approval at SOC and OBC stages. For details of what is expected at SOC, OBC and FBC stages, refer to the full text of letter FD(DFP)11/14.  

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