Social value bill is a breakthrough we must not waste

At Manchester Council social value is now an integral part of procurement and commissioning

As the social value bill completes its passage through parliament, Matthew Jackson urges localities to take advantage of the opportunities it presents

The public services (social value) bill has completed its passage through parliament and is about to become law. This is a historic moment on a number of counts. First, it is a rare occurrence that a private member’s bill finds its way all the way through parliament.

Second, it is a real commitment by government to challenging the barriers in service decision-making often found with European procurement rules. And third, it presents a real opportunity to use the power of spending to influence wider economic, social, cultural and environmental challenges.

The contents of the legislation are great news for place stewardship at the local level. For years we have been researching the benefits public spending is – and should be – bringing through the supply chain to communities and localities. The legislation enables this consideration of social value to become the norm and not just the domain of the innovative and creative few. Social value should now become a key consideration in every service delivery and procurement and commissioning decision.

We have however seen these glimpses of opportunity in the past. The general power of wellbeing, the freedoms and flexibilities and enabling measures of local area agreements, and the Sustainable Communities Act were all designed to enable localities to have greater involvement in their economic, social and environmental destinies. Local authorities had the opportunity to request flexibilities from government and become more powerful in implementing change at the local level.

The reality of these measures was that they were confusing, local authorities were unsure what to ask for, and requests were often held up by bureaucracy and a central government reluctance to enable change. The measures also did not come with a correct balance between the importance of economy, efficiency AND effectiveness. In effect, great pieces of legislation stifled by inadequate delivery and bureaucratic civil servants and ministers.

I would urge both central and local government, and the wider public sector, to ensure that the Social Value Act is different, and take full advantage of the opportunity it presents.

Central government must identify and promote the trailblazer local authorities where social value has already become an integral part of procurement and commissioning processes, where decisions are made on the basis of both cost and effectiveness. Two key examples are Manchester City Council and Birmingham City Council. There is so much to be learned from these authorities in terms of enabling, delivering and measuring social value that could be disseminated to others.

Central government must also ensure that the law and its benefits are effectively communicated to leaders, commissioners and procurers, and service deliverers in the public sector. We do not want a repeat of the lethargic nature of delivery of the aforementioned powers and acts of the last ten years.

Local government must engage with its existing and potential supply chain. Suppliers in the tendering process will need to know: what social value is; how they can demonstrate it; what proportion of the decision it will constitute; what activities they can deliver that benefit communities; and how they can monitor social value.

Local government must also ensure that social value is considered throughout the procurement process: in identifying need; in tender documentation; in letting contracts; and importantly in contract management. They must through outcome frameworks and outcome indicators monitor progress towards agreed social value and use this evidence as learning for new and refreshed services.

Suppliers in the private and voluntary and community sectors must demonstrate the impact corporate social responsibility and social value activities bring to places, whether that is through robust evaluation and monitoring, return on investment methodologies, or snippets of good news stories and behaviour change. The commissioning of the future will be all about demonstrating cost-savings and social value.

I am really excited about the potential of the Social Value Act. It presents a great chance for social, economic and environmental concerns to become the cornerstone of service delivery. It will be down to the ability of local government to grasp this opportunity and overcome longstanding cultural, silo working and bureaucratic challenges that will determine it success.

Please do not let this opportunity pass.

  • CLES will be hosting an event in April about implementing the Public Services (Social Value) Act at the local level. Further details will be available shortly at


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Jenni Inglis
Jenni Inglis
12 years ago

I agree with much of this article but this is not just an opportunity, not like a power or a policy. It is the law.

Yes how well the law is implemented in practice depends, but there is already Best Value Statutory Guidance (20110) that fleshes out what is appropriate. This covers the point that you should involve a wide range of people at all stages in the commissioning cycle.

If commissioners would like further details of practice that would enable them to comply with the Public Services Social Value act and help them with the Best Value Statutory Guidance they should read A guide to Commissioning for Maximum Value Local Government Association (2012) and book onto training starting in April.

Of course this is not just about complying with the spirit or letter of the law, it is also about making more of a difference to people’s lives and informing difficult decisions about resources.

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