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An Act that Stands Up for Social Value

31st January 2013

ResPublica Advisor Chris White MP writes for Conservative Home

Today the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, also known as the Social Value Act, which I introduced over two and a half years ago, will be officially implemented across public sector bodies including NHS Trusts, local authorities and central government departments.

The Act is short and simple. But it seeks to change the way that public sector bodies design contracts so that they consider what additional social, economic and environmental well-being they can produce in the way that they deliver the services that we all use. It builds on a number of principles which the Conservative Party articulated in the run up to the General Election.

Firstly, it seeks to focus public service delivery on outcomes rather than inputs. Public services should not just be about the amount of money you spend, but what you achieve with that money. The Social Value Act asks public sector commissioners to think carefully about the contracts they are designing and to see how we can get as many positive outcomes for our communities as possible through the way that we deliver public services.

Secondly, it is hoped that the Act will benefit social enterprises, charities and community organisations who I believe are best placed to deliver many of our public services. In opposition, we rightly sought to champion the potential that exists in civil society and the social enterprise sector to improve our public services. These organisations are rooted in the very communities they serve, and this makes them best placed to develop tailored solutions to deal with some of our most pressing challenges. In designing contracts which take account of social value, I believe that more of these organisations will have the opportunity to win public service contracts and show what they can achieve.

Thirdly, the Act asks public bodies, such as local authorities, to consider consultation when deciding how social value can be implemented in public service contracts. I strongly support the Government’s Localism message, but that doesn’t just mean devolving powers to local authorities, it must also mean devolving powers to local citizens as well. In asking public bodies to take this step, I hope the Act will encourage more co-operation in the development of public services, so that services respond to the needs and aspirations of citizens, rather than being given to them as a fait accompli.

The Government, and particularly the Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd, have got behind this Act and are planning to integrate social value into the new Commissioning Academy, which is also due to be launched today. The Act has also received support from the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats, so I hope will form the basis for a long term consensus on the future of public services.

Crucially, the Act received the support of civil society organisations and the social enterprise sector and was championed by Social Enterprise UK, NCVO, ACEVO, NAVCA and a variety of other organisations. They have pressed for this Act as a means for their members to show what they are capable of delivering in public services and I am glad that parliamentarians listened to their voices.

However this is a step on a journey. A radical change in the way that we design our public services is not going to occur overnight and it will require persistent engagement over a long period of time with commissioners, sector organisations and policy makers.

But as we look forward, I believe that the Social Value Act is an example of how we can make progress. A criticism has often been that the rhetoric on public services reform or support for civil society has not been followed through in practice – the Social Value Act is an example of those beliefs being put into practice. While changes in procurement may not be the most headline grabbing of news stories, we should not be afraid to publicise these achievements.

Most importantly, small measures such as this can make a big difference for communities on the ground and I will be continuing to look closely at this Act’s implementation to ensure that we are getting the outcomes it intended.

Today, however, is an opportunity for us to celebrate the Act and show that with effort and patience, we can deliver on its principles.

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