Policy to ensure 'social value' in City of Winnipeg spending needs more work: industry, non-profits

Approval should be delayed on a policy framework meant to ensure city spending has greater spinoff benefits for the community, representatives of local non-profits and construction companies told councillors.

Social procurement policy aims to leverage impact of $400M annual city purchasing

Darryl Harrison, director of stakeholder engagement for the Winnipeg Construction Association, told the executive policy committee the City of Winnipeg's social procurement policy framework needs more work. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

Approval should be delayed on a policy framework meant to ensure city spending has greater spinoff benefits for the community, representatives of local non-profits and construction companies told Winnipeg city councillors Wednesday.

Members of a working group that has been helping the city draft its social procurement policy asked council's executive policy committee to hire a third party with expertise in that area to finish the job.

The policy aims to leverage the City of Winnipeg's $400 million in annual purchasing of goods and services to achieve a variety of social benefits by, for example, awarding points to contract bidders who hire and train under-skilled workers.

Other examples of how "social value" can be achieved through procurement were highlighted in the framework city administration officials brought forward for approval. They include suggestions the city could purchase catering from an Indigenous- or women-owned business, or contract renovations to a social enterprise that employs at-risk-youth.

But the working group wants to see approval put on hold to ensure "there's a social policy framework that's effective, that helps the people that we want to help, and [will] facilitate people to enter into the labour market," said Darryl Harrison, director of stakeholder engagement with the Winnipeg Construction Association.

He spoke for the working group at Wednesday's executive policy committee meeting.

The group says the social procurement framework lacks specifics about how it would work.

It makes no mention of training existing city staff, or engaging people in the industry about how to use the policy, Harrison told the committee, which is chaired by Mayor Brian Bowman.

A third-party expert could help the city implement a policy sooner than the three years the plan calls for, Harrison said.

Bowman pushed back on the request to hire an outside expert, asking why the city should pay an unspecified amount to hire a third party instead of relying on city administration and the working group.

"Are you guys unhappy with the relationship and the work of the public service?" Bowman asked Harrison.

Members of the working group at the meeting insisted they support the social procurement policy, but felt the city did not have enough internal knowledge and experience.

The city's chief financial officer, Catherine Kloepfer, told the committee an action plan would include more detailed explanations of how the policy would work. A draft of that plan was shared with the industry working group members.

"We acknowledge that there's a lot of work yet to be done,  but we were coming forward looking for agreement on the principles before we got the action plan finished," she said.

30-day delay

The committee agreed to delay its vote on adopting the policy framework for 30 days.

Speaking at a news conference after the vote, Bowman said a social procurement policy is new territory for the city, and he wouldn't rule out the possibility of hiring a third-party expert.

"We've never had this kind of policy before and I, for one, and members of EPC, ultimately would like the benefit of a month just to have more dialogue, and then we can make a decision going forward," he said.

Although Harrison said the working group members are happy the city listened to their concerns, they're disappointed the city didn't commit to tapping an outside expert.

"EPC decided not to go down that path yet, but may revisit it in a month. So we want to see this progress," he said.