February 2, 2006.
SupplyManagement.com - London,UK.
In April 2005, the updated Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) became law, amending and extending provisions in the DDA 1995. Some parts came into force last December, but perhaps the most significant is a new requirement on public bodies to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people under the Disability Equality Duty (DED).
This takes effect on 5 December 2006, and will affect public bodies, ranging from local authorities to healthcare and education providers in England, Scotland and Wales.
They will be required to give "due regard" to the need to eliminate discrimination against and harassment of disabled people, promote positive attitudes towards the disabled, encourage them to take part in public life and integrate them in policy-making from the outset.
But how will this affect purchasers? According to The Duty to Promote Disability Equality, Statutory Code of Practice, published by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), there will be many situations where contractors are providing services on behalf of the public authority.
In such cases, the obligation to comply with the duty remains with the public authority. Therefore, they will need to build relevant disability considerations into the procurement process, to ensure it is meeting the DED.
But there is widespread complacency. A recent DRC survey revealed that chief executives and public-sector managers had a low level of interest in the DED and lacked the personal commitment to see it through. They were also found to be transferring responsibility in implementing new duties to HR directors and equalities officers.
The findings came as no surprise to Bela Gor, head of legal policy at the Employers' Forum on Disability. The not-for-profit advisory body has more than 400 private- and public-sector members, which means Gor is well-placed to hear what is happening on the ground.
"The DDA puts new duties on the public sector and this is something procurement departments have been slow to deal with," she tells SM. "There's a need for joined-up thinking, especially in large organisations, as things can go wrong."
She recounts the unfortunate circumstances one organisation found itself in because of a lack of communication. "One of our members had employed three visually impaired people to answer telephones and enter data on a computer. HR had also offered jobs to two other visually impaired people.
"Unknown to them, the procurement department was purchasing a new telephone and computer system. It had been bought and installed before they realised it wasn't compatible with the previous software used by the visually impaired people. So they could no longer do their job. The organisation didn't specify that the system needed to be compatible, so there was no comeback and the organisation was left with five DDA claims," she says. "There's a need for checking with and talking to other departments and building disability into all decisions. Every project manager should have a checklist."
Marie Pye, head of the disability equality duty at the DRC, believes a lot of work needs to be done to build disability into the contract writing stage. She recalls the time a local authority outsourced its waste collection to a new contractor. There was a disabled resident who couldn't carry her recycling box to the end of her garden, but the new contractor refused to walk up the path to collect it because it wasn't in the contract.
"If you want it, you have to put it in the contract," says Pye. "This caused a controversy and cost the local authority a whole lot of money.
"The public sector must make sure that anyone they contract doesn't get them into trouble. Firstly, make sure people who are commissioning are aware of the Act; often they haven't thought about disability. Then target the procurement officers drawing up detailed procurement. These are two ways of getting disability awareness in."
However, Dr Gordon Murray, procurement programme manager at development agency IDeA, thinks the DDA should be considered much earlier than at the contract-writing stage, otherwise main opportunities to make a difference will have been missed.
"When designing the need, there should be a clear statement of the desired outcomes - the problem to be solved as opposed to the solution," he explains. "At that stage procurement professionals can really challenge and add value."
When developing the business case, Murray believes there should be a meaningful options appraisal, which includes looking at the potential impact on disabled people.
"The appraisal should reflect the need for practical solutions for all concerned with delivering and receiving goods or services. The specification should be performance- based and reflect the same needs. Clearly the evaluation of bids can then reflect compatibility and best fit."
Although the organisation is not in the public sector, Dave Wilson, head of people and policy at BT, is already taking steps to ensure his organisation is up to speed with the amendments. BT uses several agencies to supply temporary workers, but he wanted to ensure disabled people had access to job opportunities.
"We want disabled people to be in the thought process of our procurement teams," he says. "A year ago, working with our procurement team, we carried out a mystery shopper experience - a disabled person reviewed the accessibility of the agency websites and we fed back the results. We are now working to ensure that accessibility requirements are built into our contracts. Embedding requirements into procurement contracts makes it part of the bidding process and it starts to become real."
The British Printing Industries Federation has also begun to address DDA requirements and recently held an event advising members about the opportunities change could bring. According to Lizzy Hawkins, public affairs officer, there is a lot that printers could be doing. "Printers can produce information in alternative formats such as Braille and many different types of media."
"Software company Adobe has been doing a lot of work to make PDFs accessible to visually impaired or blind readers. Words on the screen are converted into audio and the user can tab through."
And as public authorities gear up for the Act, they will need to make their websites and leaflets accessible to everyone. By offering products in a variety of formats, printers will have an opportunity to tap into yet another market. "This is a way for printers to differentiate themselves and create a longer-lasting relationship with their supplier," says Hawkins.
Although December might seem a long way off, procurement departments must take action now to comply with the duty. But it doesn't have to be daunting. A raft of information has been published by the DRC, and new guidance by the Office of Government Commerce and the IDeA will be published over the coming months. As long as procurement departments are well-informed and observe the recommendations, there shouldn't be any problems.
WHAT PROCUREMENT SHOULD DO
Revise any standard terms and conditions for contracting services to include information about the Disability Discrimination Act 2005
Ensure the relevant government guidance on social issues or equality issues in procurement is considered
Include a requirement in every contract that the contractor must comply with the anti-discrimination provisions of the Act
Where relevant, specify what evidence the contractor may need to gather for the authority to demonstrate its compliance with the general or specific duties
Ensure that disability equality is given due weight in the specification, selection and award criteria, and the contract conditions, in a way which is consistent with EC and UK procurement rules
Ensure that contractors fully understand any disability equality requirements of the contract
Monitor performance of disability equality where relevant to the contract
Provide training for all staff involved in procurement work so that they understand the provisions of the Act and the relevance of the Disability Equality Duty to their area of work
Source: The Duty to Promote Disability Equality, Statutory Code of Practice, Disability Rights Commission www.drc.org.uk.
Helen Gilbert is a freelance business journalist.
Source URL: http://www.supplymanagement.co.uk/EDIT/Featured_articles_item.asp?id=14506.
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