Buy Social: a pioneering approach to public procurement


The Buy Social model delivers real benefits to communities by integrating social clauses into public contracts, writes the Strategic Investment Board.

Since 1 April 2016 adherence to the Buy Social model has been a mandatory requirement for all public procurement for construction contracts above £2 million and for civil engineering contracts above £4 million. Moving forward, this will ensure the significant investment Northern Ireland makes through public procurement (£2.65 billion in 2014/15) becomes a more focused and effective driver for social and economic change, particularly in areas that need it most.

Key benefits will include:

•   Targeted recruitment and training for people who are long-term unemployed and leaving education;

•   Opportunities for people with disability or learning difficulties.

Borne out of the social clause model designed by the Construction Industry Federation NI, the Buy Social approach has been created by the Strategic Investment Board based around the key recommendations (see box overleaf).

Underpinned by the 2010 Sustainable Development Strategy for Northern Ireland, the model supports the Programme for Government’s commitment to include social clauses in public procurement.

To support the implementation and sustainability of this approach a Buy Social Toolkit ( has been developed. Aimed at anyone with procurement responsibilities within public sector bodies and contract authorities, it is a practical guide which will ensure the purchase of goods, services and works achieve value for money, whilst making a positive difference to everyone in Northern Ireland.

SIB’s Strategic Advisor for Social Regeneration Mary McKee said: “Buy Social maximises benefits from public procurement in terms of personal well-being, social cohesion, and inclusion, equal opportunities and sustainable development joining up many key policy areas. It has the potential to be a huge driver for change and provide training and jobs for some of the most disadvantaged people in Northern Ireland.”

ULSTER-HOSPITAL-MCOOPER02The benefits of targeted recruitment and training are already beginning to show. MSM Contracts Ltd volunteered to use the new Buy Social clauses on the construction of a new sports facility for Victoria College, Belfast. One new recruit explained: “I was caring for my younger brother for the past two years so I wasn’t able to work. I heard about this job opportunity through Springvale Employment and Learning and have now been employed for three months with MSM Contracts on the Victoria College project. It’s been brilliant so far, I can’t ask for a better bunch of people to work with. MSM have been very good and any questions I have they answer, no matter what it is. I hope to stay in the construction sector long-term.”

Feedback from a recent Construction Employers Federation seminar highlighted the positive response the Buy Social approach has received in the marketplace.

Key recommendations

  • A focus on paid employment (rather than work experience) – resulting in development of skill, stability and growing local economies.
  • A single Key Performance Indicator for the contractor (rather than many) – enabling the construction industry to efficiently interpret and rollout the Buy Social approach.
  • A stronger monitoring system to ensure the social obligations are being delivered – ensuring the legal requirements of Buy Social are met.
  • A brokerage service to allow contractors to find employability and training providers – with over 100 brokerage organisations to assist the construction industry this joined up approach has been strengthened through the Buy Social Brokerage website (

The Buy Social team are delivering training programmes and information sessions for those working in public sector procurement.

Contact the Buy Social team by emailing or telephoning

028 9090 9422. Further information can also be found at




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