The recent BBC series W1A followed the progress of the BBC’s Head of Values in his new role and contained references aplenty to the importance of ‘valuing values’. But are there parallels to be drawn here with the Public Services (Social Value) Act, which sought to put values at the heart of commissioning?
The Social Value Act, as it is often referred to, has now been in force for over a year. The Act itself is something of a rarity, being initiated by Chris White, MP as a private member’s bill which actually made it on to the statute books. The Act requires public bodies such as local authorities, government departments and NHS trusts to take account of social value when commissioning certain types of contracts. It doesn’t apply to all contracts, but public bodies are still able to choose to apply social value considerations to other contracts if they want to do so.
The effect of the legislation therefore is that some bodies may opt only to do the minimum necessary to comply with the law, whilst others voluntarily go beyond that level. Chris White has been quoted as saying “there is no limit to the potential of the Social Value Act.” So, what has been happening in practice?
Social EnterpriseUK and Landmarc have recently published “The Future of Social Value: a report from the Social Value Summit 2014”. The report found that awareness of the Act was growing but there is still plenty of work to do, both amongst commissioners and providers. Where there is awareness with public bodies, it is not necessarily with the right people in procurement, legal and finance teams and is sometimes seen as an additional burden rather than an opportunity to improve the way services are delivered. From the provider-side, awareness has not necessarily led to actual changes in behaviour – providers are encouraged to engage more in pre-procurement discussions with commissioners to help social value considerations to be part of the mix.
BSSEC, a body which supports social enterprises in Birmingham and Solihull, carried out its own research (funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust) which sheds a more positive light on the first year of the Act. Birmingham City Council has developed a Social Value Policy, whilst Oldham and Liverpool are in the process of developing a Social Value Charter. These are designed to set a social value framework in the context of existing priorities. Birmingham enabled the creation of 250 new jobs and 25 new apprentices as social value outcomes in the contract to build the new Birmingham Central Library. Oldham has used the legislation on a smaller scale to provide 30 hours of student mentoring to help young people be more effective in entering the job market. This was done by way of a £20k contract for executive recruitment support.
Both reports recognise an issue in how social value is framed. Since ‘social value’ is not defined in the Act, it is left to each body to come up with its own definition. This allows for local variation and innovation but also means that it can be hard for commissioners to include examples that can properly be included in contracts. However, the BSSEC report refers to a Social Value Procurement Framework prepared by Oldham Council which does show examples of what suppliers could do in practice to meet outcomes set, such as paying staff a living wage to meet an outcome of having a fairly-paid workforce across the town.
Social Enterprise West Midlands has set up a network of Social Value Champions based in many of the local authorities in the region. The purpose of the network is to have a person in each body who understands the Act and is able to promote its use within their organisation, and who can also meet together to share challenges and success stories alike. Ian Simpson, Head of Procurement at Staffordshire County Council and a Social Value Champion, has said he has “a duty of care to do the best for our local economy and the people of Staffordshire” and has already significantly reduced the size of tender documentation and taken other steps designed to make life easier for charities and social enterprises bidding for work.
There are examples of good practice to be found but work remains to be done by public bodies and charities and social enterprises alike if the Social Value Act is to fulfil its potential. Potential providers can be do their part by approaching commissioners in pre-procurement discussions, in ensuring that they are aware of and can demonstrate their own social value, by helping to raise awareness in their local areas, and by doing all of the above consistently and persistently. This way, the sector can do its bit to put “the value of values, literally, on the agenda”, as W1A’s Ian Fletcher might put it.
Simon Lee, Hempsons Solicitors
Simon has provided legal advice to social enterprises, charities, and other community and voluntary sector bodies for over 10 years. He is passionate about the sector and is able to advise on a wide range of matters affecting such organisations including legal structures, contracts, funding and governance issues.