Social value — looking forward

Since 2012 BSSEC has been working to support practical implementation of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 — what has become known in shorthand simply as ‘social value’. This work has been made possible by financial support from The Barrow Cadbury Trust, which we gratefully acknowledge. 
In drawing the project to a close, we organised two roundtable discussion events — the first for social enterprises; the second for strategic partners. These were planned to enable a proper conversation about social value, looking not just at where things are currently but how best the idea can be extended and protected for the future. 

Roundtable views

The views of social enterprises and strategic partners had much more in common than we thought might be the case.
Social enterprises feel there is a big gap between the rhetoric of social value and their experience of how the legislation is being used on the ground, but strategic partners share many of these same concerns. They too consider that there is an evident gap between rhetoric and reality; that it is time for advocates and supporters of social value to exert greater influence over the agenda; and that identifying social value solely with the public procurement process is too narrow an interpretation of what social can and should be.
It is clear that much remains to be done in order to continue developing better use of the legislation, a wider understanding of the role of social value and especially in joining up local efforts to ensure that social value continues to be a key part of public policy in Birmingham and the wider west Midlands.

Recommendations from final report

Our final report makes the following recommendations — split up into recommendations for the social enterprise sector, for sector intermediary bodies, and for strategic partners.

Social enterprise sector

(1)  There clearly is more that the sector and sector intermediaries need to do: 
a) Amongst social enterprises, social value emerges as critically linked to communication. It is now apparent that social enterprises may need continuing support in order to:
» Better articulate and describe social value.
» Devise evidence of this social value in ways that are best suited to the enterprise and its activities.
» Embed a social value narrative in every aspect of how they communicate.
b) If the sector is to reclaim the social value agenda it will have to be more active in promoting, supporting and shaping social value and its wider understanding.

Sector intermediary bodies

(2) Supporting social enterprises: Sector intermediaries (such as SEUK WM, SEUK, BSSEC, Big Society Capital) should be considering whether there is a viable support role they can offer which will help the sector get better at articulating its social value.
(3) West Midlands Social Value Task Force: Those already involved in the West Midlands Social Value Task Force can play a critical role in advocating on behalf of social value and highlighting the issues reported here.
(4) Social finance: Social enterprises at our first event described almost wholly negative experiences of trying to utilise social finance. Those who have supported the social finance sector – financially and otherwise – and those who have influence within that sector, should be challenging social finance intermediaries to embed social value in all their lending and investment practices and decision-making and become providers of genuinely social finance.
(5) Greater Manchester: We should be considering what can be learnt from Greater Manchester’s example of developing co-ordinated approaches to social value and how best we can apply that learning in Birmingham. Those best situated to take a lead would seem to be intermediaries with a longer, national reach, such as Big Society Capital and SEUK, but there are many in the sector, including BSSEC, who would be willing to help gather, digest, summarise and disseminate such learning.

Strategic partners

(6) Health: There is still no clear route into health for social enterprises wanting to assist commissioners better embed social value in commissioning, but opportunities do exist:
» There is clear potential for greater leadership in public health commissioning in particular to bring social value to the foreground in commissioning.
» It is also possible for the Birmingham & Solihull STP to better reflect social value as a key concept.
» It would be a huge step forward if we could begin to see some leadership and guidance coming from within the health sector regarding a vision, definition and framework for social value in health commissioning.
(7) Social Value Strategies: The need for social value strategies at the Birmingham level, the GBSLEP level, and the WMCA level has already been identified. BSSEC would be happy to work with BCC and others to contribute to a social value strategy at the city level; others may be better situated to help at the GBSLEP and WMCA levels. What is important is that these two events have revealed that there is a huge appetite both within the sector and amongst strategic partners for joint working that will help improve understanding of social value and improve how we use it and how we pursue it. 
(8) Birmingham City Council & the Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility: Birmingham City Council wishes to render the social value ‘offers’ of Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility signatories more transparent by publishing these commitments along with progress and successes. BSSEC – and perhaps others too – would be very happy to support Birmingham City Council in developing such a reporting mechanism if this would be helpful.
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We will carry on working with others in the sector to try and influence the continuing development of social value both in Birmingham and in the West Midlands through the emerging West Midlands Social Value Task Force.
One of the key things that has changed since the legislation came into force is that gradually a pool of expertise – of social value advocates and activists – has developed. We now need to work together more effectively to maximise the collective impact and influence we can have in this area and BSSEC and its members very much intend to be part of that.
You can read the executive summary and full final report at the links below.