UK government floats 10% weighting for social value in contracts

The British government reinforced its commitment to create more social value from £49bn worth of public sector contracting at Social Enterprise UK’s Social Value Leaders Summit on Monday.

After earlier unveiling plans specifying areas where commissioners should look to create social value, Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary Oliver Dowden (pictured above) gave more detail in a speech to more than 100 business leaders at King’s College, London.

Dowden was filling in for expected speaker David Lidington, Theresa May’s number two. The Minister for the Cabinet Office was called away to help with Brexit negotiations ahead of an expected vote on a deal in parliament on Tuesday.

“This government will ensure that contracts are awarded on the basis of more than just value for money but [the] company’s values too, giving firms much-deserved recognition for their positive actions in society,” said Dowden.

He told the audience that teams from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Cabinet Office have been working with Claire Dove, who stepped down as the chair of Social Enterprise UK at the end of 2016 and subsquently took up a role as Crown Representative of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector.  

They have developed a standardised framework for procurement they hope will provide clarity for commissioners and VCSEs.

The group have developed a scorecard that provides departments with a framework of common values and specific criteria to be included in their procurements.

After Dowden’s speech, Dove confirmed to Pioneers Post that the scorecard will be available to view as part of the public consultation, which is now open. Her group has recommended that social value should make up a minimum of 10% of the weighting when assessing tenders for contracts.

The British government strengthened the Social Value Act with the Civil Society Strategy announced in August 2018. Where previously commissioners had to merely consider the social value when awarding a contract, they will now have to account for it.

As well as the five areas where government has identified it wants to make an impact, Dove said that subjects like tackling the gender pay gap would be included in the framework.

There were mixed reactions to the announcement from attendees.

“It’s positive that ministers are willing to come to events like today,” said Susie Finlayson, development manager at independent trust Power to Change.

"We welcome the consultation on metrics and expansion of the Social Value Act's application in practice and hope it will open more doors for community businesses to engage with central and local government procurement,” she said.

Ben Carpenter, CEO of Social Value UK –which helps businesses account for the social value they create – welcomed the clarity on procurement processes described in the consultation and was particularly pleased to see requirements about employee wellbeing included.

“I would like to see that enforced. It would be quite a significant leap forward if all businesses had to report on that; it would change the way that all businesses behave,” said Carpenter.

However Alison Reid, CEO of Community Dental Services, which works with several NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) said she thought the announcements were “more of the same”.

“There were more gaps in it than more assurances. It’s a framework. I don’t know if that means it will be their mandated approach. Will it be guidance? Will it be standards of practice? There were no teeth behind it from my sense,” said Reid.