In a piece in Third Sector Online today, Peter Holbrook, chief exec of Social Enterprise UK, argues that the Public Services (Social Value) Act, which comes into force today, needs toughening up if it is to work.
SEUK believes that stronger legislation is needed which will compel public bodies to include social value in their commissioning and procurement rather than just ‘consider’ it. It also wants the act to apply to contracts of both goods and services, irrespective of contract value and is in favour of statutory guidance being drawn up.
We all want to see the legislation applied as widely as possible rather than as narrowly, but I’m not convinced that tougher legislation is the best way to achieve this. In fact, I think it could result in the reverse — a costly bureaucratic exercise that fails to meet its objectives because public authorities resist rather than welcome it.
To my mind, calling for tougher legislation is a battle we can’t win. The political tide has turned against such sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut legislative approaches.
And in any case, the social enterprise sector has far more to gain from its key bodies and membership organisations working with public authorities rather than against them.
I don’t disagree with the aims — but I do disagree with the means of achieving them. It isn’t our job to make public authorities ‘do’ social value. It’s our job to make public authorities want to do social value — as well and as widely as possible.