About Buy Social


The Northern Ireland Executive is committed to building a fairer and more equal society for all

On 5th November 2015, the Procurement Board agreed the Strategic Review of Social Clauses and the Buy Social Construction model for implementation from April 2016.  From this date onwards, the Buy Social requirements are to be used in procurement above £2m for buildings contracts and above £4m for civil engineering contracts.

The Procurement Board discussed the Buy Social Services model at its meetings on 13 January and 24 February 2017 and, following further discussion with a number of Departments, the model is now agreed.  The model should be considered in services contracts with an anticipated value of £500,000 per annum or more.

The Buy Social Unit published an updated approach for Services and ICT contracts in February 2020, broadening the focus of social considerations beyond targeted recruitment and training, in order to respond to the changing labour market.

Buy Social Explained

What is Buy Social?

Buy Social is a tool to maximise the benefits from the £2.6 billion spend on public procurement in Northern Ireland. It specifically addresses key quality of life indicators such as; personal well-being, social cohesion and inclusion, equal opportunities and sustainable development.

Why do we need a Toolkit?

The Buy Social Toolkits are practical guides to help those with procurement responsibilities to generate benefits to society and the local economy through the contracts they let. It helps those who are purchasing services and works to achieve value for money in their contracts whilst at the same time making a difference to everyone in Northern Ireland. For more information click here.

Who are the Toolkits for?

The Buy Social Toolkits are aimed at Public Sector bodies and Contracting Authorities that are subject to Northern Ireland Procurement Policy and to the requirements of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, and want to include social consideration clauses in contracts.

Social Procurement in NI

The full policy framework for Buy Social is set out in the Buy Social Strategic Plan. A snapshot of some of the policy framework for Buy Social is set out below.

Draft Programme for Government 2016 – 21 – Buy Social is one tool that Departments can use to help achieve against eight of the twelve draft Programme for Government (PfG) 2016-21 outcomes.

OECD Report – The OECD strategic review of the Public Sector in Northern Ireland recommends the Government “Develop and make available expertise in social clauses to commissioning and procurement officials as they undertake their work”.

Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland (2011 – 2021)
The Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland (2011 – 2021) reinforces The Executive’s commitment to “maximise the social benefits of investment”.

PGN 01/13 – PGN 01/13: Integrating Social Considerations into Contracts was endorsed by the Procurement Board with effect from 8th November 2013 for use by those bodies subject to NIPPP. Following the Procurement Board adopting Buy Social as the model for the delivery of social clauses in construction contracts from April 2016, further revisions were made to PGN 01/13 to better reflect Buy Social requirements and the revised version was published in September 2016.

Letter of Expectation from the First and deputy First Ministers
Buy Social is included in the letter of expectation from the First & deputy First Minister which mandates SIB to continue to work with Departments and other key stakeholders to develop and extend the Buy Social approach.

For more information on the Programme for Government, click here.

Common Myths Dispelled

1. Is it legal?

Yes. It is legal to “Buy Social”, provided care is taken to accommodate UK and EU procurement frameworks. The Central Procurement Directorate has issued guidance on how this can be achieved.

2. Does it cost more?

Incorporating social benefits into contracts need not make them more expensive. Ensuring the social benefits requirement is proportionate to the size of the contract helps to minimise cost implications and contractors can seek industry/government training resources.

3. Will delivery of contract be more difficult?

If social benefits are defined clearly at the outset, there is no reason why they can’t be delivered as part of the contract. Again, they should be in proportion to the contract value but also within the expertise of the types of contractors likely to be interested in your contract.

4. Are there any risks?

If you clearly describe the social benefits you are buying as part of the contract, all bidders should be clear as to what they are tendering for. Best practice is to be as explicit as possible at the very outset. You can contact the Buy Social team for further advice and support.

Five Key Considerations

1. Think Carefully

Think carefully about what you do and make sure you can do it well. If you want social benefits to be achievable, you need to ensure they are proportionate to the contract value and appropriate to the sector. It may not be possible to seek social benefits from some contracts but ensure you have given the possibility adequate consideration. It is better to do a few things well than overload the contract.

2. Act Early and Seek Advice

Consider how social or economic outcomes can be achieved as you define your overall objectives. Seek advice from the Buy Social team by emailing info@buysocialni.org.

3. Make it Achievable

To open up the market, consider leaving elements that could be better met by small businesses outside the main contract.

4. Be Relevant

Ensure that you link the social benefits to the subject matter of the contract. This can be achieved by making a link between your organisation’s core aims and how these relate to the NI Executive’s jobs, growth and social inclusion policies. Some contracts will lend themselves to providing targeted recruitment and training opportunities for long term unemployed people, apprentices and students.

5. Innovate

Don’t be afraid to be creative. Integrating social benefits is more than providing employment and training opportunities. They can also include things like reducing waste, purchasing fair trade products, increasing levels of recycling materials, and building capacity among SMEs and SEEs.