Quality social service provision relies on good funding policies; public procurement being perhaps the most common procedure. In many EU Member States, public authorities contract out social services they cannot, or do not, wish to provide themselves. Such practices are governed at EU level through the Public Procurement Directive 2014/24/EU.
Over the past few years, whilst there are some promising practices, we have heard numerous stories of public authorities telling our members that “the EU rules mean we can’t” use quality criteria or that the “EU obliges us to go for the cheapest offer”.
As an organisation aiming to develop policies which enable social service providers to help implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, EASPD has long stressed the crucial need for funding measures to focus on quality principles; rather than solely on cost.
To help our members, we contacted the European Commission for clarification. In their recent response, the European Commission highlighted that “Increased flexibility and expanded possibilities to take into account social considerations in public tenders were among the main objectives of the 2014 Public procurement reform”.
Of particular note is the European Commission’s re-affirmation that “when legislating, Member States must also allow contracting authorities to take into account ‘the need to ensure quality, continuity, accessibility, affordability, availability and comprehensiveness’ of the service at stake (and) the specific needs of different categories of users, including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, the involvement and empowerment of users and innovation’.
In our view, the letter clarifies very well the variety of options available for contracting authorities to include quality criteria into their tenders; an issue which is absolutely crucial to the development of care and support services which are in line with the UN CRPD.
The fact that these remain options for contracting authorities -and not obligations- is a serious barrier to the development of community-based services and -more importantly- to the inclusion of persons with support needs.
On the long-run, changes (such as the compulsory inclusion of quality criteria for the procurement of social services) will be needed to ensure that the EU Public Procurement Directive is fully in line with the CRPD. On the short-term, we can only welcome the willingness of the European Commission “to advocate for increased and effective use of quality criteria”.
In fact, the Commission plans to produce a guide to help contracting authorities use socially responsible public procurement. You still have a few more weeks to share your views on what could be most useful at local level. Respond to the consultation here