Social Value Act: Where are we now?

It has been 603 days since the Social Value Act went ‘live’ after receiving cross-party support and strong backing from voluntary organisations and social enterprises.

The Act has been a useful tool in encouraging public bodies to think differently about how they design public services.

The government’s decision to review the Act is a positive development and follows a call for a review by NCVO and other membership bodies ahead of Budget 2014. NCVO will play an active role in the review process as the Act remains a valuable tool for improving public services – all the more important against a backdrop of reduced statutory funding and public service contracts.

But before we start this process, it is important to consider what’s been achieved to date.

Implementation is patchy

Implementation has been somewhat inconsistent. Some local bodies have made great progress, particularly those with a track record of innovative commissioning and sustainable procurement. For example, the councils of Knowsley, Durham and Lambeth have all taken steps towards implementing their own social value programme, as highlighted in our Commissioning for Social Value (PDF, 3.3MB) interim report.

But these are the exception, rather than the rule. There has been no official monitoring of the Act’s implementation which has put little pressure on public bodies to embrace the Act.

The need for guidance and measurement

Guidance on the use of the Act has been limited and while the intention has been to give commissioners maximum flexibility, in many cases this has led to inertia. Social value is different depending on location, however commissioners do need support in building the frameworks to identify priorities, engage with service providers and design contracts.

Measurement of social value also matters. There are many tools out there for measuring social impact but the lack of a common standard has created uncertainty for commissioners, leaving many to opt on the side of caution.

While the recently created Social Value Hub provides resources to help address these barriers, the review provides further opportunity to see if more can be done to support local bodies develop their own fledgling social value programmes.

Divergent conceptions of social value?

An interesting survey from University of Birmingham earlier in the year highlighted that conceptions about social value were different between commissioners and voluntary organisations. The sample of organisations and commissioners was limited, but it indicated that voluntary organisations conceived of social value in terms of opportunities to improve social cohesion while local authorities seemed more interested in employment and jobs.

If social value is to succeed, then commissioners and providers need to talk a common language. This ensures commissioners can make the most of the opportunities available to create social value and providers can gear up to meet local objectives.

Training, training and more training

A recurring theme from our conversations with local bodies and our members is the need for better training on social value. Commissioners need to know how to use social value and embed it into their commissioning processes. Voluntary organisations need support in measuring their social impact and demonstrating the value they create.

We have called for a Centre for Social Value to be created to help provide the tools to train commissioners, support organisations in demonstrating their impact and share best practice. Regardless, appropriate training is a key issue.

What has your experience been?

Have you managed to successfully bid for and deliver a better service as a consequence of the Act? What barriers have you encountered in demonstrating your social value? What can be done to support commissioners and voluntary organisations to use the Act better?

If you can help with these questions, please get in touch or leave a comment below.

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Paul joined NCVO over seven years ago after working for a leading public affairs agency. Since then he’s led our policy work on a variety of issues, including welfare-to-work reforms, volunteering, the Compact, public service commissioning and procurement regulations. He now leads our work on funding and finance with a particular focus on charity tax relief and safeguarding EU funding post-Brexit.

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