Social commissioning for inclusive cities

Research project: Social and inclusive commissioning

Tom Huisjes investigates social and inclusive commissioning under the supervision of professor Elisabetta Manunza (UUCePP) and professor Frans Pennings (UU). Public procurement has traditionally been used to promote social policy. By applying ‘social’ commissioning in the different phases of commissioning works, supplies and services, the government can also both promote and realise major societal goals, such as that of inclusive cities. The research is carried out on behalf of the municipality of Amsterdam in cooperation with the Amsterdam Bureau Social Return. Huisjes’ goal is to research the possibilities of using public procurement law as an instrument to combat discrimination and to promote diversity and inclusivity.

Integrating social policy within procedures for awarding public contracts can lead to legal tensions between the social goals and the principles of public procurement law. Take for instance the requirement for contracting authorities to always act in accordance with the principle of proportionality.

The research consists of two parts. Part I, regarding negative measures, focuses on the question whether contracting authorities can exclude an economic operator in the selection phase, if the operator (e.g. an employment agency) has discriminated in the job market, for instance on the basis of people’s origin. To this end, it is necessary to research which sorts of discrimination can form the basis for such an exclusion and how such a violation of the equality principle can be demonstrated. Furthermore, it is important to determine which requirements the rules of evidence place on such a measure, and the role of principles like the need for an adversarial process.

Aside from this repressive approach, a more proactive approach can be pursued within the policy on government commissioning (Part II). Public procurement can be distinguished from other legal instruments such as subsidies and permits due to the role of the awarding phase. During this phase – if properly employed – the government can stimulate the economic operators to submit a tender that the municipality desires and therefore more can be achieved in the field of non-discrimination, diversity and inclusion. Laying down special conditions relating to the performance of a contract can also lead to more inclusivity. Although a specific label cannot legally be required, labels (such as the ‘Prestatieladder Sociaal Ondernemen’) can play a role in promoting diversity and inclusivity. How and to what extent this can take place is also part of the research.

This project is part of broader research into social commissioning that Elisabetta Manunza is carrying out and supervising. This includes the doctoral research by Gerrieke Bouwman on organising social services in the Netherlands in light of the European social market economy. On 6 September 2019, Dr. Niels Uenk defended his doctoral dissertation ‘Municipal commissioning approaches for social care services – evidence from a countrywide live experiment’. All of these research projects are also part of the research centre RENFORCE and the UU HUB Social Entrepreneurship Initiative.