Barcelona has always been a centre of radicalism. Now the City’s €1bn spending power is being used to build a more democratic economy.

Procurement may not capture the imagination, but Barcelona is using it to limit the dominance of big busines and support the social and sharing economy in the City.

Anna Birley

Policy Officer


Protestors at a pro-Catalan independence demonstration in Barcelona
  1. In Barcelona, things have always been done differently. A city buzzing with creativity, unusual architecture and a rich heritage of participation, innovation and political radicalism, it’s no surprise that their football club, FC Barcelona, is a fan-owned co-operative or that they recently elected a radical new mayor, housing activist Ada Colau.

Now, Barcelona plans to continue its transformation into a different kind of city, based on co-operation and social inclusion – using a new economic model to support the social and sharing economy and limit the dominance of the big businesses.

Barcelona City Council spends over €1 billion every year – and they want to turn these public contracts into a tool for sustainable and inclusive growth. While public procurement may not capture the imagination of many, for Barcelona it’s at the cutting edge of creating a stronger, fairer local economy.

Working with businesses, trade unions and local communities, the City government has developed a new social procurement guide to make businesses become more responsible, and to boost the co-operative, social and solidarity economy.

Spain has had a long history of co-operation, even before the Civil War in the 1930s. Now, since the financial crisis, the movement has seen a resurgence. In 2013 in Catalonia there were 4,130 co-operatives – now, in Barcelona alone there are over 4,800, accounting for 6% of the city’s GDP. Co-operative organisations range from consumer and farmer co-operatives, to healthcare and ethical finance institutions, to bookshops and community organisations.

The city’s new approach to how it issues contracts sets out several social measures which are designed to boost the co-operative and social sector further through levelling the playing field between businesses with democratic and profit sharing business models, and others “that pay their taxes in tax havens and offshore production”.

For businesses that fall outside of the co-operative economy, the new guidelines are intended to reward companies that can demonstrate a social conscience. They are getting community groups to take part in choosing the winning contract, and forcing companies applying to be transparent about wages and costs. Big business will also now have to buy a certain percentage of goods and services from the co-operative or social sector, and introduce additional protections for SMEs.

Barcelona is one of a growing number of cities showing the way on how we can use procurement to rebalance the local economy. In Cleveland, Ohio, they’re also pioneering a new way of working: by partnering with anchor institutions – such as the hospital and university – they can develop local worker-owned businesses. The strategy has created 5,000 jobs from Cleveland’s hospital network alone. In Preston, they’re taking a similar approach, working with public institutions to procure locally and supporting residents to establish and grow new co-operatives. Cities like Barcelona, Cleveland and Preston show that through smarter procurement there’s an opportunity to shape communities around co-operation.