Acting on social value

Dan Gregory image

Dan Gregory is Director of the Social Economy Alliance – a 500-strong partnership of social enterprises, co-operatives, think-tanks, universities, social entrepreneurs and charities led by Social Enterprise UK.

Last week, Lord Young published his review of the Social Value Act. There was very little in his review for anyone hoping for radical change or transformation. There was no extension of the Act, no broadening below thresholds or to new areas of public life and no deepening through stronger teeth, incentives or penalties.

Rather, there was a clear focus on implementing the Act as it stands, making it work harder. This review, then, was about how to get the best out of what we have already. While Social Enterprise UK were disappointed Lord Young didn’t go further, this focus on delivery is welcome. Too often governments forget their last initiative, look for fresh ideas, and get excited about what to unveil next, without stopping to think about whether last year’s model has even left the garage.

Social value at the heart of decision making

In truth, we need a bit of both. Policy progress needs to be accompanied by practical change. This is why the Social Economy Alliance has called for a Social Value Unit within the Treasury and NCVO has called for a Centre for Social Value in their respective manifestos.

These aren’t exactly the same thing but they’re both about policy and practice. The unit at the heart of government could take responsibility for monitoring whether departments and local authorities are getting serious about social value. We want Budgets and Autumn Statements to look not to short-term financial bottom lines but to wider, longer-term value. The clout of the Treasury could bring significant influence to bear on those who should be weighing up social value in departmental policies, tenders and asset management strategies. This is a way to transform services, save money, better engage with communities and spur innovation – not a burden, cost or box to tick. The Treasury is ideally placed to carry that message.

Social value across the country

Meanwhile, we need to take the social value message out there and make concrete changes to the way public money is used across the country. We want more sharing of good practice and more consistent approaches to measurement, training and advice. We need more and better training for commissioners, procurement, finance and legal folk across the country. At SEUK we want to work across sectors and get social value into the mainstream, following lessons from the sustainability agenda.

Ultimately, NCVO, SEUK and others are making the same call: for social value to be more clearly understood, embraced and harnessed to deliver more sustainable services, better services for our beneficiaries and savings for the taxpayer. We want to work with each other and with members, across the country and across sectors. We need more consistency and consensus in policy and practice and the only way we get that is together. Social Enterprise UK and NCVO have a history of working in partnership – NCVO supported our Social Value Summit, for instance, and we’re working together with the Institute for Voluntary Action Research on our Health and Social Value programme for the Department of Health, with the Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust, the Chartered Institute of Housing and the National Housing Federation, and with Business in the Community too.

Too often VCSE umbrella bodies can be perceived to be competing with each other and jostling for position. The very spirit of social value can take us beyond narrow short-termism to help deliver longer-term, wider value for members and citizens across the UK.

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