When will Northern Ireland get its own Social Value Act?

Plans for Northern Ireland's own Social Value Act will be delayed following the resignation of the deputy first minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly last week.

The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 came into force in England and Wales in 2013 and requires commissioners of public services to consider how they can also secure wider social, economic and environmental benefits. Since then, Northern Ireland has been developing its own version of this law.

Social Enterprise Northern Ireland (NI) has been working closely with the All Party Working Group for Social Enterprise (APG) at Stormont to bring forward legislation in respect of a Social Value Act for Northern Ireland.  

The draft motion for a Social Value Act in Northern Ireland was signed by all parties a year ago, which meant it would go in the queue to be debated by the assembly. With the assembly about to be dissolved, debate about a social value act will now be further delayed.

The resignation of the deputy first minister is unfortunate timing for Stewart Dickson, who is the chairperson of the all party group on social enterprise in the NI Assembly. He was featured in a video just before Christmas with finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who pledged to bring forward the act to the Assembly “which will embed social value in everything we do.”

Due to the disagreement between the two main political parties in Northern Ireland a general election will now take place on 2nd March. However, work on the social value act will progress behind the scenes.

Social Enterprise NI will be closely involved as a representative of the sector in discussions following last week’s announcement that the procurement board of the Assembly's finance department has given its approval to progress with the legislation.

The Northern Ireland assembly, consisting of 108 elected members, has been in charge of affairs in the country since 1998. 

Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness of the Sinn Fein party resigned in protest at the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).  

The RHI scheme was set up to encourage people to use renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels. But, according to Northern Ireland's Audit Office, the scheme’s subsidy rate was flawed, enabling claimants to earn more cash for buying more fuel. It is estimated to have cost the taxpayer upwards of £490m.

Under power-sharing rules, the first and deputy first ministers must govern jointly. DUP leader Arlene Foster is Northern Ireland’s first minister. Sinn Fein has not nominated a replacement for McGuinness and the assembly will therefore be dissolved on 26 January. New elections will then take place on 2 March.

The idea of a social value act will be kept alive in the interim thanks to Social Enterprise Northern Ireland’s Social Value Conference, which takes place in Belfast on 26 January.

The theme of the conference is Shaping the Future – Making a Mark. Representatives from Edinburgh, Belfast and Salford City councils will speak about implementing social value in local government with several high profile UK private sector bodies also in attendance.

RBS, PwC, Wates Group and Johnson & Johnson, all founding members of the £1bn Buy Social Corporate Challenge in the UK, will talk about their involvement and the ways it has benefitted their company and employees. 

For more information about Social Enterprise Northern Ireland’s Social Value Conference, please click here. Pioneers Post is pleased to be a media partner for the event, so keep an eye on the website for further coverage.

Photo credit: rovingi