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Only a quarter of councils have social value commissioning policy

Legal enforcement is needed to ensure social value is given priority in commissioning, according to a new report from Social Enterprise UK.

The organisation submitted Freedom of Information requests to all local authorities in England, which found that 24% had a social value policy and 33% said they routinely considered social value in their procurement and commissioning.

Although this was the highest number ever, Social Enterprise UK said that the Social Value Act needed to go beyond asking councils to ‘consider’ the social value of commissioning in order to ensure a greater social benefit.

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, said: “This research shows that where the will exists, councils in England are using the Act to embed social value into the way they commission services – in many cases going beyond its obligations to create positive change in their communities. This is a credit to the procurement and commissioning teams driving this agenda, they are unsung heroes.

“Sadly too few councils still see the Act as a duty rather than an opportunity. The Act has been in force for more than three years but is not empowering local authorities in the way it could be, to the detriment of our communities. Legislative change is needed – the Act lacks teeth and simply asking public sector bodies to consider the creation of social value when commissioning services is not enough.”

The report also said that procurement and commissioning teams were struggling to deliver social value in commissioning because of a lack of information and training in how to achieve this.

A previous report from Social Enterprise UK found that 31% of commissioners and procurers, and 51% of providers felt there was a lack of guidance on implementing the Act.

Cllr Neil Clarke, chair of the District Councils’ Network, said: “It is good to see that the report has recognised the excellent work of a number of districts in employing the Social Value Act to its full potential.

“While we recognise that some district councils could do more, we must ensure that the conditions of the Act remain proportionate to ensure that districts can continue to deliver their procurement practices in the most efficient way so that they can continue to deliver those local services that residents and businesses value the most.”

The report divided councils into four categories: ‘embracers’ and ‘adopters’, who viewed the Social Value Act as empowering, and ‘compliers’ and ‘bystanders’, who considered it an obligation.

Overall, the report found 45% of respondents were ‘compliers’ and 22% were ‘bystanders’, compared to just 19% who were ‘adopters’ and 14% who were ‘embracers’.

It also said that more arguments needed to be made in favour of using social value to deliver better value for money, and it recommended greater research into how successfully councils are applying social value to achieve policy goals.

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