Social Value Hub – a useful resource for public sector buyers

The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 came into force at the beginning of 2014 and requires public bodies in the UK to consider how the services they buy might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area in which the contracting authority operates.

“Consider” can be seen as bit of a weak word – “I’ve considered it and decided not to bother actually doing anything”. But most buyers will want to approach this positively, both from a compliance point of view and also because there is some reasonable thinking behind the Act. But taking the right steps is not always immediately obvious, so we welcome this new website, the Social Value Hub, launched by a group of partner organisations who are interested in the social economy - Social Enterprise UK in partnership with NCVO, NAVCA, the National Housing Federation and the NHS Confederation.

The advice given, based on our sample of the material, looks sensible from both a legal standpoint and in terms of commercial good sense. We like the “Mythbuster” section of the website - here’s an example.

“Myth #7: Engaging with bidders including social enterprises prior to procurement is anti-competitive

The earlier a contracting body starts considering what it wants from a service, the more transparent and fair it can be, and the more likely it is to achieve the right results. Procurers can discuss their needs with potential bidders AND service users before beginning a procurement process. This can help them select what to buy and how best to buy it in a way that provides social value on the terms of service-users, providers and other stakeholders. In doing so, contracting bodies may find they learn a great deal about the capabilities and willingness of the marketplace.

Before formally starting procurement, the public body can consult with the marketplace quite freely, being careful not to prejudice the fairness and transparency of the procurement. Public bodies must be careful not to discriminate when engaging (so could not, for example, choose only to engage with social enterprises). But consulting the whole marketplace will not generally be discriminatory if that consultation is genuinely open to all. And contracting bodies should be encouraged to flag the opportunities for engagement to those groups who might otherwise not find out about them – including social enterprises, the rest of the civil society sector, and small businesses”.

 

That is excellent advice – actually, quite independently from social value issue, it is a very good description for anyone in the public sector of how to approach pre-procurement market engagement.

There are also a whole range of reference and advice documents on the site from different sources, which generally look relevant and useful. Some are from the academic community, some from government sources (such as the Cabinet Office Procurement Policy notes) and some are good practice or case study based. They do go beyond purely private sector - it was surprising to see a case study entitled “Social Audit case study: Loch Fyne Oysters” and I’m not sure that particular document adds much to the debate.

But that’s being hyper-critical really of what looks like a good initiative and a useful website that public procurers should add to their ‘bookmarks’ list.

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