City looks at getting (social) bang for its buck

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City council will consider an action plan that aims to ensure its buying power can help meet clear community goals.

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City council will consider an action plan that aims to ensure its buying power can help meet clear community goals.

The proposed sustainable procurement action plan pitches changes meant to help Winnipeggers overcome employment barriers and get hired, and/or achieve key social and environmental goals.

The plan recommends the city pursue community benefit agreements for construction projects, which have specific social outcomes for hiring, training and other factors.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Coun. Markus Chambers said the call to earmark some contracts for Indigenous bids would complement the city’s reconciliation efforts.

It also calls for the city to earmark certain contracts for Indigenous businesses and social enterprises, including some “Indigenous-only” bid opportunities.

The plan would see the city eventually award bidding points to companies that incorporate desired social benefits while competing for city contracts, though targets and rewards have yet to be set.

Coun. Markus Chambers, who has long pushed to add social goals to procurement, said the call to earmark some contracts for Indigenous bids would complement the city’s reconciliation efforts.

“I think it’s a great and noble action in the sense that these are the calls to action that we have been receiving through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” said Chambers. “I also think that the City of Winnipeg ought to take some leadership in that as well and provide opportunities for Indigenous only bidding to occur.”

Chambers said it’s an ideal time to improve access to employment because of high demand for workers.

“There’s a lot of opportunities out there, it’s just a matter of getting our workforce trained,” said Chambers.

The plan to achieve the city’s goals includes hiring a full-time staff member to oversee procurement, which is expected to cost the city $121,000 each year, beginning in 2023. The city expects to spend $168,000 on consulting services over three years to further develop the plan.

Chambers said he sees clear value in that investment, should council approve it.

“It’s going to level the playing field for those equity-seeking groups that want to be part of this process and that can provide a benefit back to the community that will offset costs in other areas… If we’re providing opportunities for individuals to become trained and find employment… there’s an immediate benefit,” said Chambers.

The action plan notes the City of Winnipeg spends about $400 million each year on goods, services and construction.

It sets several key goals for the city to strive for through sustainable procurement, including: increasing employment of First Nations, Inuit and Red River Métis peoples; raising (the number of) organizations that pay a living wage; aligning education and training programs with sustainable procurement jobs; reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making it easier to access to local, sustainable food.

If the plan is approved as is, the city will design a pilot plan to identify 10 to 15 upcoming contracts suited to the procurement goals.

Following a trial period and evaluation, the city would try to apply criteria for contracts to attract sustainable practices, though that process isn’t expected to begin until at least September 2023.

Darryl Harrison, the director of stakeholder engagement for the Winnipeg Construction Association, said a questionnaire of bidders will take place before that change occurs, so the city has a better idea of how companies currently contribute to the city’s social goals.

“We have to have an understanding of the base case right now… The danger in putting in any sort of target (right now) is the target might not be realistic or it might not be reaching far enough,” said Harrison, a member of the city’s social procurement working group.

He said the construction industry hopes to attract more workers through the procurement changes.

Council is expected to cast a final vote on the action plan later this month.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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