The Social Value Act review – welcome steps and missed opportunities

Lord Young has completed his review of the Social Value Act. The report published today rightly recognises the potential of the Act to improve public services and help commissioners do more with less, at a time when they face significant budgetary pressures. And while its recommendations don’t go as far as we’d like, it does make some welcome suggestions.

Lord Young’s recommendations

Like us, Lord Young sees a clear role for government in promoting better awareness and take-up of social value across the public sector. The report recommends Cabinet Office:

  • Issue a cross-Whitehall paper on what each central government department has achieved to date on social value.
  • Engage senior civil servants and Ministers in championing social value, and consider ways to support these champions to network.
  • Continue to target senior commissioners through the Commissioning Academy and its associated products.
  • Investigate ways to incentivise the take-up of social value (for example, looking at the possibility of conducting a one-off ‘three years on’ Social Value Awards).
  • Work with existing procurement networks to include social value in professional development training.

The review also recommends Cabinet Office promote better understanding of how to practically apply the Act, including how to define social value and apply it within procurement rules (this is important as we all know how procurers sometimes apply regulations when none are required!).

The need for effective measurement is another key theme of the report. The creation of an impact measurement group, to be led by Inspiring Impact (of which NCVO is a member), is a welcome development as it acknowledges the key role voluntary organisations have to play in helping commissioners engage with the Act.

The review also provides welcome clarification that recent changes to EU procurement law which stand to benefit the voluntary sector will not result in the Act applying to fewer public service contracts as some had feared (see my previous blog about the key changes to procurement law that will affect charities from the end of this month).

Missed opportunities

Despite these encouraging developments we are disappointed the Government has not seized this valuable opportunity to strengthen the Act itself.

In our response we recommended that:

  • Public bodies be required to ‘account’ for the social value they generate rather than just ‘consider’ it. Similarly we also asked that commissioners ‘account’ for pre-procurement consultation and engagement with users and providers when looking to include social value in a contract.
  • The government remove reference to the EU procurement threshold clause altogether.
  • The Act be extended beyond services to goods and works as well

We are also disappointed the review panel didn’t accept another of our recommendations that public bodies be given statutory guidance to help them get the most out of the Act. The report does include some welcome best practice guidance which Cabinet Office will look to disseminate in the coming months, but without statutory backing it’s likely to have a limited impact.

Missed opportunities aside, the review does represent a positive, if somewhat modest, step in the right direction. Lord Young has recommended another review be conducted within the next two years – let’s hope its recommendations are a bit more ambitious.

If you have any thoughts on the review’s findings or would like to share your views on the social value agenda more generally, please get in touch 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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