Social Value: Act and Measures

There was an outbreak of enthusiasm over breakfast one day this week. It was a business briefing organised by Hazel Blears MP and hosted at Deloitte. Providers big and small lined up to say they had been embedding social values for years and welcomed the new duty on commissioners and procurers to consider social, environmental and economic wellbeing in their procurement activities.

The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 came into force on 31 January 2013 and applies to public services contracts and framework agreements to which the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 apply.  Is it giving us another set of requirements or is
it a lever for change for the better? The providers were enthusiastic. Hazel Blears and Chris White, the Conservative MP who introduced the Act via a Private Members Bill, were enthusiastic.  What about the public agencies, the ones on who the duty falls?

Sarah Hayward, Leader of Camden Council articulated the between rock and a hard place that local authorities are in. Camden, like other local authorities, already use social values in their procurement decisions and she welcomed this voluntary approach being made more formal. They insist on London Living Wage from their suppliers of goods and services and assess bids against local employment, sustainability and so on. But the benefits that might arise from these in reduced welfare bill and increased tax receipts do not come back to the local authority. That does not mean to say they will not continue to push for social value but in the harsh world of 20% budget reductions, who can complain if price once again becomes king. Or that their procurement and contract teams’ capacity is so reduced that they cannot assess the veracity of claims of providers in addressing social values. Those providers who talk a good talk but don’t have depth or real sign up may win against others who are genuinely committed.

National measures? – “I couldn’t disagree more”

There was much talk about measurement and a proposition that there should be a centrally determined set of measures so everyone does not have to work these out for themselves. I couldn’t disagree more. The one way to stultify any initiative is to try to codify and standardise it. The last thing anyone needs is to add to the already overcrowded national outcome and performance frameworks – NHS, Public Health, Social Care, Quality Outcome Framework, CCG Outcome Framework, Social Inclusion ones, No Health without Mental Health one and no doubt several more since I last looked.

But I am ever the optimist. Sarah remarked that if an organisation comes to her with business drivers and values that match those of the local authority then “We want to do business with you”. That is the starting point for putting together an alliance contract – aligning business drivers and agreeing a common set of values and principles. If the Social Value Act makes that a requirement, then bring it on.

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