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Social value summit

Source: Public Sector Executive Feb/Mar 2015

It has been two years since the Social Value Act came into force, and Social Enterprise UK held a Summit to discuss progress. PSE spoke to deputy chief executive Nick Temple after the event.

“People always think these things will move quicker than they do – I vividly remember one social enterprise ringing us up two weeks after the Social Value Act became law and saying nothing had changed for them yet.”

This is Nick Temple’s way of highlighting that even two years on from the Social Value Act becoming law, it remains “early days” in many ways. The deputy chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, speaking to PSE after his organisation held a Summit examining progress so far on 3 February, said: “This is a long-term game: it’s helping catalyse some actions and spark conversations, but will still take a while.”

He noted that commissioners and procurement teams have needed time to get their policies in place and their priorities set, and then for tenders to come around.

He added: “Actually, some of these powers were available before the Act – there’s more flexibility than people think in terms of doing this. But it’s helped raise it to the forefront of people’s minds, and catalyse some of that action that was more fragmented before. We know it’s appearing in lots more tenders, anecdotally.”

Reversing the stereotype

Temple said the effects of the Act on the ground have been “mostly as expected”, but added: “What’s surprised us a little and been interesting is the extent to which some private sector [companies] have picked up on it, particularly those who get a lot of their income from public sector contracts. It’s been interesting that they’ve been aligning in trying to persuade commissioners to do more of this stuff. Increasingly, they’re recognising that a ‘race to the bottom’, just cutting costs, ultimately won’t work for any of us.

“I’ve seen it directly myself – where the provider, even in sectors where the social sector doesn’t do much, to be frank, literally raises awareness of the Act with the commissioner. That’s encouraging and we need that: we need champions and advocates among commissioners but also providers.”

Carrot and stick

It’s not all good news, and Temple admits some areas are “lagging” on social value. He wants to give them more time before naming and shaming them, but said eventually there may need to be “more stick to go with the carrot”.

This could even include legal challenges – an avenue not yet explored – though this would not necessarily be easy. “The language of the Act makes that relatively difficult,” Temple explained. “It talks about ‘considering [social value] at pre-procurement stage’, and it is probably quite difficult to [prove] that someone hasn’t ‘considered it’. But potentially you could at least ask for evidence that that had happened.

“As time goes on, it will become clearer who’s clearly not with the programme, and we can use different means to highlight that.”

One way of assessing this, he said, is whether a public body has a social value policy – if not, why not?

“Some councils were ahead of the game and on that journey even before the Act, looking ahead and seeing the legendary ‘graph of doom’, and realising the status quo doesn’t work because they can’t just keep cutting – they’d be doing adult social care and nothing else.

“The situation some councils are in, it’s tough at the moment – I don’t underestimate that. If we rock up and say ‘social value can help you transform!’, they can say ‘have you seen my cuts?’ We recognise it’s difficult, but if we provide evidence on how social value procurement can result in cost savings, and how it improves relations, and if they start to be more integrated and joined-up, then they can make savings in different budgets.

“We need to bolster that message, which some local authorities are genuinely getting, but clearly some areas are lagging behind and haven’t made that connection and are seeing it as box-ticking.”


The Social Value Act gives local commissioners flexibility to set their own priorities, but for 80% of councils and housing association, the top priority has been local employment or something related. Skills, local supply chains and paying the living wage are other common priorities.

He said Liverpool, Birmingham and Durham – all represented at the Summit – are pioneers in this area, as are Oldham and Knowsley, which has social value as a “golden thread” running through all its procurement.

Camden and Croydon have impressed him, as has Halton, Temple said, because of the joint work taking place between the council and clinical commissioning group, which share a director of transformation and are thinking about social value very proactively.

Temple added: “There’s good practice emerging in both big and small local authorities, rural and city, and under different political leadership. That’s quite encouraging: it’s not just left-leaning councils. East Sussex, for example, has done some very interesting work.

“We’re restless for this to go quicker, but public sector commissioning is a tanker not a dinghy. We want social enterprises to use the Act as a lever and door-opener to get in and have the conversation.”

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