Reflecting back on London 2012, the
warm response to the Olympic and Paralympic athletes (win or lose), the
cheering of that very British institution the NHS at the opening ceremony, and
the applause for the Olympic volunteers at its close, demonstrate once again
that there is far more to life than money. At a time when faith in financial
institutions has been strained, ‘social’ value is back on the agenda.
And when public authorities are
making their choice about how to spend their money (£220 billion a year in the
UK), finding ways to ensure social value is obtained, not just cheapest price,
is important to communities.
The Public Services (Social Value)
Act requires public authorities, including local councils and health bodies in
England and Wales, to consider social value when commissioning services. It has
the potential to make a big difference for charities supporting the most
disadvantaged people in our local communities. It is also a big opportunity for
commissioners to rethink how they commission services, but will they make the
most of this?
Will public authorities wait for the
Act to come into force in January 2013 or will they start thinking now about
how to make the Act work for them and bring social value to life?
Of course, this is easier said than
done. The Act leaves social value up for interpretation. Writing recently for a
NAVCA briefing, Chris White MP, the godfather
of the Act said he thought that would
need to be done on a case by case basis, adding that he hoped “all public
bodies will see this as a duty to consult” to best structure social value into
NAVCA’s main interest is that commissioning
leads to increased social value for local communities. Our approach is that
councils and other local public commissioners should seek to identify the key
elements of social value that are important to people in their locality. This
might include local jobs, local skills, fairness, the quality of environment or
community engagement. Of course, what is important will be different for
We have also supported the LGA’s
Procurement Pledge to allow small and medium sized business and charities to
compete with the big guys on a fairer basis. This would benefit the resilience
of local economies.
At NAVCA we have been working with
our local members to explore these issues with commissioners. Three things
stand out. Firstly, while individually many officers in local government are
enthusiastic about the Act, they are apprehensive about how to use it and
looking for political leadership locally to make it happen. The time for bold
political leadership locally to bring about new commissioning practices,
encourage culture change and foster a more open exchange of dialogue with
communities is now. Local councillors should ensure they set out clear policy
guidance for their officials to follow. Without this, the danger is more box
ticking and inertia will prevail; the same savvy bidders who complete the
tender with high promises but deliver to minimum standards. We’ve seen too much
of that in recent years.
This brings us onto the second area,
what counts as having met the Act’s requirements? NAVCA would like to see an
approach where local political leadership sets out a minimum standard and
threshold for meeting the Act, and drives the implementation of that.
Otherwise we feel we will only see
pockets of good practice across public bodies, failing to really grasp the
potential of the Act.
As an example, what will count as
having ‘considered’ social value, what will count as having ‘consulted’, and
what do commissioners understand as ‘economic, social and environmental
well-being’? The Act raises many questions that demand both political
leadership, but also guidance and a framework to work within.
Thirdly there is a big thirst to
understand how to make all this happen in the current legislative framework of
procurement, and learn from others. We
are working with commissioners, civil society organisations and umbrella bodies
to help them understand how to make it happen, learn from other areas and share
good practice. How will you make the Act work in your community?
This article has been published in the ResPublica Fringe magazine, a collection of articles and essays from our party conference partners.
representative from NAVCA will be speaking at ’Public Services, Social Value
and the Social Economy’, a
ResPublica fringe series co-hosted with NAVCA
and Selwood Housing at Labour Party conference: Wednesday 3rd
October, 6.00pm – 7.15pm, Manchester Town Hall, and Conservative Party
conference: Monday 8th October, 5.00pm – 6.15pm, the ResPublica Marquee, ICC Birmingham (secure zone).