Public Procurement and the Social Entrepreneur

Project reference number: GSBS-S2018-013-Aitken

In 2011, the then finance secretary, John Swinney outlined an important element of public policy:

"The Scottish Government is determined to help third sector bodies become more competitive, win contracts across public sector markets and become more sustainable and successful.” (

In an attempt to implement this, policy funding has been made available through initiatives such as the ‘Building a Sustainable Social Enterprise Sector in Scotland - Action Plan 2017-2020’. The objectives of this action plan are to support social entrepreneurs in all aspects of tendering for publically funded contracts, to assist social entrepreneurs become ‘tender ready’ for public procurement and to develop their sustainability and market potential. Several government funded organisations have emerged to support this intent (e.g. ‘The Supplier Development Programme’ and ‘The Partnership for Procurement’).

Despite Scottish Government policy and related investment, Lindsay et al (2014) are amongst those who have have identified potential risks associated with social entrepreneurs delivering public services in Scotland, and note the difficulty that third sector organisations can have in meeting the procurement requirements of public funders. There is also significant, although at this stage largely anecdotal, evidence provided by social entrepreneurs illustrating these difficulties. This apparent gap between procurement policy and practice not only deserves further research but also represents a potential failure to capitalise on Scotland’s national resources.


The aims of the project are to:

  • Explore the characteristics of Scottish Public Sector Procurement in the context of third sector, social entrepreneurial service providers.
  • Examine, through case study research, any barriers to social entrepreneurs delivering public services.
  • Evaluate interventions to promote acceptance of third sector organisations.
  • Generate new evidence based insights and recommendation for closing any related gaps.

Example references

  1. Edler, J. and Yeow, J., 2016. Connecting demand and supply: The role of intermediation in public procurement of innovation. Research Policy, 45(2), pp.414-426.
  2. Lindsay, C., Osborne, S.P. and Bond, S.U.E., 2014. The ‘new public governance’ and employability services in an era of crisis: Challenges for third sector organizations in Scotland. Public Administration, 92(1), pp.192-207.
  3. Macfarlane, R. and Cook, M., 2008. The Scottish Government: Community Benefits in Public Procurement: a Report Demonstrating the Methodology for Including Targeted Recruitment and Training Clauses in Public Sector Contracts. Scottish Government.
  4. Nicholas, C. and Fruhmann, M., 2014. Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Policies in Public Procurement: Time for a Rethink? 1. Journal of Public Procurement, 14(3), p.328.
  5. Tammi, T., Saastamoinen, J. and Reijonen, H., 2014. Market Orientation and SMEs' Activity in Public Sector Procurement Participation. Journal of Public Procurement, 14(3), p.304.
  6. Scottish Government 2008. Enterprising Third Sector Action Plan 2008-2011. Edinburgh: Scottish Government, Available from: (accessed 13 Jan 2018)
  7. Uyarra, E., Edler, J., Garcia-Estevez, J., Georghiou, L. and Yeow, J., 2014. Barriers to innovation through public procurement: A supplier perspective. Technovation, 34(10), pp.631-645

Application deadline

The application deadline for October 2018 start is 1st of July 2018.

Research supervisors

Candidates are encouraged to contact the following researchers for further details:

Mode of study

This project is available as a:

  • PhD: 3 years full-time 
  • 1 + 3 route to PhD: Undertaking MRes 1 year full-time + PhD as above


Applicants will normally hold a UK honours degree 2:1 (or equivalent); or a Masters degree in a subject relevant to the research project. Equivalent professional qualifications and any appropriate research experience may be considered. A minimum English language level of IELTS score of 6.5 (or equivalent) with no element below 6.0 is required. Some research disciplines may require higher levels.

Specific requirements of the project

The successful applicant will be able to demonstrate understanding of software development but have some understanding of and a particular interest in adapting ideas and models from other types of system e.g. natural, ecological, physical.