Have your say on social value

The government has launched a consultation on how central government should take account of social value in the awarding of contracts. The government’s civil society strategy has a heavy emphasis on social value, including a commitment that the government should use its spending power to deliver social change. This consultation shows some of the commitments made by government are coming to fruition – alongside the publication of a guide to selling which was also promised in the strategy.

What the civil society strategy says about social value

The civil society strategy has strengthening social value at its core and outlines an ambition to apply the principles of the Social Value Act across all government spending and decision making. The strategy aims to achieve this by requiring central government departments to ‘account for’ the social value of new procurements, rather than just ‘consider’ it. This idea echoes a long-standing recommendation made by NCVO. The strategy also explores whether the act could be applied to grant making and other areas of public decision making and commits to training for all central government commercial buyers.

While these commitments show a positive direction of travel, it still falls short of what is needed. There is still the absence of a commitment to improve the use of the act at local and regional levels, where a large proportion of public services are procured.

About the consultation

The consultation focuses on how central government buyers can make the shift from considering social value to actively accounting for it. It sets out how public procurement policy will change and how social value should be considered when contracts are awarded. Alongside this is a proposed framework for evaluating tenders on social value.

The proposed approach sets out how procurement regulations allow public bodies to incorporate social and environmental aspects into contract specifications and award criteria, where they match the subject-matter of the contract.  This will need to be made clear to risk-averse procurement teams who can sometimes be put off from including social value criteria. This tends to be because of concerns that this will compromise the equal treatment of bidders. As has often been the case with turning social value policy into good practice (and good procurement more generally), this will be about ensuring all staff involved have the skills and knowledge to make the most of the flexibility available to them.

Key questions

Social value delivery model themes

DCMS and the Cabinet Office have worked with Claire Dove, the crown representative for Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSEs), on a social value delivery model for central government buyers. It sets out themes against a set of policy outcomes that departments should be considering, such as:

  • diverse supply chains (including accessibility to VCSE organisations and organisations owned by or led by underrepresented groups)
  • skills and employment
  • inclusion
  • mental health and well being
  • environmental sustainability
  • safe supply chains.

All of the outcomes included in the framework are positive, but will this proposed model also allow buyers to recognise some of the less definable, more intrinsic offers of social value that voluntary organisations can add? Is there a risk that a set of policy outcomes will be too narrow or rigid?

Also, if it is not accompanied by adequate training and support on both sides of the procurement process, could it create an additional hoop for small and medium sized organisations to jump through, rather than playing to their existing strengths?

Social value ‘weighting’

The consultation proposes a 10% weighting to bids where there is potential for social value objectives, adding that departments would be free to apply a higher weighting if they deemed this appropriate.

Is this proposed percentage high enough to achieve the parity of recognition for social value that is outlined in the civil society strategy? Or should the minimum threshold be higher in order to achieve the more diverse marketplace and the delivery of social and environmental objectives that the government aspires to achieve?

What’s next?

We will be responding to the consultation and would like to hear your thoughts on the changes that are being proposed. Feel free to get in touch with my by email or by phone on 0207 5202469. We also encourage you to respond directly to the consultation.

In August it will be a year since the launch of the civil society strategy, and NCVO will take this opportunity to focus in on where the government has got with all of the commitments it had made.

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Rosie joined NCVO in 2018 as a trainee external relations officer after working as a programme manager for a literacy charity. Rosie supports both NCVO’s parliamentary work and media relations, including Constructive Voices, and is responsible for organising our annual Campaigning Conference.

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