Cabinet Office reviews progress on ‘social value’ one year on

Today the Cabinet Office published ‘The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012: One Year On‘. Birmingham and the West Midlands feature prominently as examples of good practice and innovative approaches to achieve social value.

The report confirms that the government’s approach will continue to be one of light-touch guidance, with commissioners continuing to have considerable flexibility and ‘freedom from the centre’ in how they approach social value. It also acknowledges that progress has not been uniform, however, and suggests that there will in the coming year be more support for public authorities that are struggling to implement the legislation.

Writing on the eve of publication of the report, Social Enterprise UK says that its own survey has found considerable progress amongst commissioners but more need for support amongst providers. Third Sector Online covered that story here.

This does to some degree reflect our experience in Birmingham, where we have been working as part of a Barrow CadburyTrust-funded project to help our key partner, Birmingham City Council, embed practical, ‘do-able’ approaches to social value. Many social enterprises and third sector organisations are still a little puzzled about how social value will actually play out on the ground and do need more support and better information. We intend to address that in Birmingham a little later this year, when we will be providing workshops and other support for social enterprises wanting to know more about the new legislation and how to rise to its challenge.

There has ben a problem in designing this support, however. The ‘evidencing’ end of the social value process — how providers subsequently evidence the social value delivered as part of a contract  — is the least developed. This isn’t just the case in Birmingham — it is a widespread issue. And because social value-based procurement is still in its infancy, the number of ‘live’ examples that can be used to offer replicable models for evidencing are relatively few.

But this will start to change as contracts let using the new legislation mature and their evidence and monitoring models are tested ‘under fire’. Birmingham City Council is in the process of letting a significant number of new contracts and all of these have explicit social value clauses written into them, the process based on the council’s social value policy. Those tendering must include a two-part social value statement in their tender. The first part states the additional, relevant social value outcomes the provider believes it can achieve, and the second part asks them to indicate the kind of evidence they will be able to utilise to show that these social value outcomes have been achieved.

We will draw on this practical experience of working closely with Birmingham City Council to develop support and information tools explaining the evidence requirements for social value.

On the 15th January we held our own ‘one year on’ event in Birmingham, with case study presentations from Birmingham City Council, Oldham Council and Liverpool City Council. This was fascinating — it also helped illustrate that while individual authorities are making progress on social value, they don’t always have an opportunity to share their learning or showcase their approaches.

The presentations confirmed that while there may be differences of emphasis and process, extremely strong commonalities are emerging in how local authorities are approaching social value.

We will shortly publish a report of this event –watch this space.

Meanwhile, you can read more about our work on social value here.

Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website

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