What does social value in public services actually look like?

Charlotte Stuffins blogs about policy. Charlotte no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site.

Who wants to know?

Over the past couple of months, I have had a number of phone calls, tweets and emails from people wanting to know the answer to one burning question:

“So Charlotte, what actually is the Social Value Act”?

After I’d worked out I was not on call divert from Chris White MP’s office (whose Private Members’ Bill led to the passing of the Act), I realised that this sudden wave of popularity was off the back of a blog I wrote in July, provocatively entitled “What is the Social Value Act?”.

I should have known that whilst good for page views, such a grandiose title may lead to further questions around this new piece of Government legislation. Whilst I stand by that blog and believe that it did answer the questions it set out to, a number of people have rightfully pointed out that whilst the theory is all well and good, it is important that we explore what is actually meant by the concept of ‘social value’.

So what is ‘social value’?

As I mentioned in my previous blog, Chris White MP’s definition of social value is as follows:

“A concept which seeks to maximise the additional benefit that can be created by procuring or commissioning goods and services, above and beyond the benefit of merely the goods and services themselves”.

Seems logical enough when viewed as a theoretical concept. But the Social Value Act isn’t a theoretical manifesto – it is a new piece of legislation that has real implications for the way that certain services will be designed, commissioned and procured.

It means that commissioners and providers alike will need to understand what social value looks like in practice, in order to use it effectively. Here at NCVO, we believe that this definition is best read alongside a line in the Act, which clarifies that services delivering social value will also improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of an area.

What has NCVO done to better explain social value?

Well firstly, we did a call out to our members asking:

“Do you believe your organisation’s services demonstrate social value?”

We had an encouraging response rate and as a result decided to compile a number of case studies to illustrate a range of ways that this concept has been interpreted. They span a range of services, from a community re-use organisation with 40% of its employees having a disability, to a social enterprise that cleans up communal areas, with only ex-offenders on their payroll.

NCVO believes that the creativity and innovation that these organisations demonstrate when providing public services should be showcased and celebrated. The ability (and willingness) of voluntary organisations to provide services that employ or help those who are often excluded from mainstream society is inspirational. And the improvements that these services bring to the economic, social and environmental well-being of an area are undeniable. What’s more, if more commissioned services now have to demonstrate social value too, we are surely onto a really good thing. Hopefully, these case studies go some way to demonstrate how the concept of social value can be interpreted. Although please bear in mind that they are just a starting point and merely illustrative of services are already delivering social value, and are by no means restrictive to ways that social value can be delivered.

But what should we do next?

As ever, please do get in contact if you want to further discuss our work in this area. This project has come about because of the demand from our members. If you want more examples, different approaches or practical steps that can be taken to demonstrate the social value of the services your organisation provides – please let us know and we’ll do our best to help you.

Charlotte Stuffins

NCVO Policy Team’s blog

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