The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

Enabling communities to thrive: embedding social value locally

28th April 2015

Whatever the outcome of the election, the challenge for any incoming government is clear. We need to find more effective ways to deliver public services that maximise the benefits to local communities, prevent problems and reduce future demand on services. As a new social contract is developed between citizens and the state, it is imperative that we learn from communities across the country who even in the most challenging of circumstances have responded by developing effective solutions to local problems.

An incoming government has an opportunity to move away from a silo approach to transforming public services and devolve power from the centre by taking a number of immediate steps to strengthen existing legislation and completing a transformational shift towards community-level working. By strengthening local decision making, service delivery and spatial planning and development of communities, a new government could enable all communities to thrive in the difficult economic circumstances ahead.

It is clear that the public have an appetite for change and want a renewed focus on public services. In February and March 2015, Locality surveyed the general public on their views on public services. There was overwhelming support for public services and a clear mandate on how services should be developed:

  • 32% of people felt that public services were not currently meeting all their needs and those of their families
  • 62% of people are afraid that in future public services will not be able to meet their needs or the needs of their family.
  • 69% of people think it would be better if local communities were involved in developing public services and finding solutions to local issues.
  • 72% agree that public services should be run and delivered by locally-based organisations.

It is also clear that communities want to be involved in local decision making about where they live and want to take an active role in shaping and delivering services. The technical help and support provided by Locality and partners to people interested in utilising the community rights and neighbourhood planning has received over 16,500 enquires in the last three year.

To build on this groundswell of community support for taking more control of key decisions, services and community assets (buildings and land), an incoming government needs to take two immediate steps.

Firstly, build on the first steps taken through the Social Value Act. The Act is relatively new and yet to reach its full potential in changing procurement and commissioning policy and practice. However, the Act could be a key tool in ensuring that communities thrive in the difficult economic circumstances ahead, building on existing good practice which has demonstrated the economic and social benefit of a locally-based collaborative approach to maximise community social value. The Young Review of the Act said it:

“encourages commissioners to think about securing value through procurement in highly innovative ways which have generated significant cost savings and demonstrated a much more responsive way of delivering better services.”

Yet, its implementation across the country is piecemeal, with The Young Review highlighting a number of barriers. Locality and our partners have called for a number of actions to address the problems we have documented, including clearer guidance to commissioners on how to define social value, and a targeted training and capacity building programme for commissioners and the sector.

Locality members across the country demonstrate the impact they can make when commissioners work collaboratively to co-design and co-produce public services with groups of local people, rather than simply paying lip service to social value.

Equal Lives is a user-led organisation set up in 1996 by disabled people in Norfolk. Equal Lives unites people of all ages who face disabling barriers to get their voices heard and change things for the better. Their membership represents a range of people including those with physical or sensory impairments, mental ill health and people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. Equal Lives also support people through their services and activities to live more independently and have choice and control over their lives. To quote Mark Harrison, their CEO:

“It’s much more cost effective if disabled people manage their own care. It costs between 30-50% less than if it’s managed and delivered by the local authority or private agencies. But also it gets much better outcomes. If disabled people are in control of their own care they lead much more fulfilling lives; they’re much more active within their communities, they’re active citizens and they go out to work. We’ve got 1,700 service users and we give over £2million back to the local authority every year, because disabled people manage their allowances as though it’s their own money. They’re very prudent with it and anything that’s unspent can then go back to the local authority to be reinvested in services”.

The second step Locality would propose is to extend the Social Value Act to cover goods and works, infrastructure development and the management and disposal of assets. However to be effective, the principles of social value must be integrated across all decision-making, service design and operations, and involve local communities and service users in design and delivery. Social value is not an additional box to be ticked. This would enable communities to immediately benefit and prepare the ground for a renewed focus on localising decision making and ensure that communities benefit from all public expenditure and activities.

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