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Social value shouldn’t be some scary, omnipotent phrase. It’s time to make a difference.

Following a survey of public sector organisations and their incorporation of social value into the procurement process, in partnership with Wates and the Social Value Portal, Public Sector Executive’s Matt Roberts evaluates one of the clear challenges presented by the data.


Social value is a procurement buzz phrase at the moment in the public sector; a way of interconnecting the sometimes disassociated public organisations, businesses and their local communities. It has government backing through the Social Value Act 2012 and is reshaping how the procurement process works within the public sector.

Respondents from across the sector understood the importance of this shift in priorities, with 42% - the highest single answer grouping to the question – saying their main motivation for including social value within procurement is because it is “the right thing to do”.

So why, if it is such a pressing concern to a wide scope of public sector bodies and workers, did two-thirds of respondents to our survey suggest they had “poor or limited understanding of what social value actually is”.

Simple; the narrative.

Social value has been a great phrase for projects to use, and the base concepts behind it are highly commendable, both considering and giving back to their communities where possible – yet there has been real difficulty in presenting the importance and work of social value in an easy to understand format.

At it’s very core, the social value movement strives to ensure procurement incorporates and considers the wider social, economic, environmental and non-financial benefits of a project or bid. Doing so both guarantees and incentivises long-term investment into an organisation’s local community.

READ MORE: Social value: what is it and why?

READ MORE: Dr Joshua Pritchard says social value is the answer to spending taxpayers’ money effectively

For the public sector, this is perhaps capable of having the most significant impact on account of the number of public sector organisations being ‘anchor institutions’. Universities, hospitals and the likes are deep-rooted into their community, forming part of the very backbone of it, and as such real difference can be made if when tendering out and contracting work, there is given genuine consideration for the wider-impact work of that project or bid too.

As society, we want to strive to improve our local communities, and social value incorporation into new projects is a key way to do so. But, without improving this narrative out to organisations and individuals within the industry, then we continue to exist in the state of limbo in which we currently are: people want to push forward with social value, but are limited by a lack of organisational commitment or capability to manage it.

Barriers to delivering social value for respondents’ organisations were most notably resources and a lack of top-level buy-in to the concept. Once more, these come down to narrative – to convince senior figures and public bodies of a need to factor in these social value elements, despite tight organisational budgets and an on-paper view that is perhaps not as outright financially profitable – requires the right dialogue and understanding of its long-term benefits.

As Wates’ group community investment manager, Su Pickering, highlights there is “an improving trend in the awareness of social value within local councils. This new research suggests the continued need to improve understanding of the concept.”

Through social value, there is a real opportunity and vision of ensuring public sector procurement positively impacts its organisations’ wider community. This message just needs expressed and disseminated more clearly and widely, because the passion and drive to commit to it is there – it’s just still a difficult, vague phrase to many, which makes committing resources to it a tough sell.

Times are improving, we just cannot lose the forward momentum gained so far.


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