Social Value Act ‘tipping point’ has been reached – Chris White

After a decade of slow burn, the author of the UK's Social Value Act predicts a bright future for businesses that offer positive social and environmental impact as well as value for money to public sector commissioners.

A “tipping point” has been reached in the government’s recognition of the importance of social value, says the ‘father’ of the legislation that introduced public sector commissioners to the concept.

Delegates at this week’s National Social Value Conference 2022 were welcomed this morning with an upbeat assessment of the impact of the Public Services (Social Value) Act which is now in its tenth anniversary year.

Changing the culture of public sector procurement is a tanker we have taken a decade to turn in a different direction

“Changing the culture of public sector procurement is a tanker we have taken a decade to turn in a different direction,” said Chris White, the former MP and author of the act who is now an academic, in a keynote speech.

Flagging that the Social Value Act had been recently mentioned in the UK government’s Levelling Up white paper as well as the updated National Shipbuilding Strategy, White (pictured top) said: “We have reached some kind of tipping point in terms of awareness, understanding and measurement.”

 

'Social value will continue to come to the fore'

The Social Value Act, which became law in March 2012, initially required public sector commissioners in England and Wales to consider how public procurement decisions could improve the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the relevant area. Since 1 January 2021, all central government departments must explicitly evaluate social value when procuring services, not just ‘consider’ it. Social enterprises see it as an opportunity to win more public sector contracts, as well as a push towards encouraging the wider business community to act more ethically. 

Today, Social Enterprise UK estimates that £100bn of annual public sector spending takes into account social value - one-third of the annual total.

Critics over the past decade have focused upon the act’s low impact. For example, a review of the Social Value Act carried out by Lord Young in 2015 concluded that the act was having positive benefits, but there remained problems around lack of awareness. At the same time, Lord Victor Adebowale, at the time CEO of social care charity Turning Point, said the act lacked teeth

Opening the conference, Darren Knowd, chair of the National Social Value Taskforce, said: “If there are any naysayers, their days are over. Social value will continue to come to the fore.” 

He pointed to the forthcoming procurement bill which, he said, would be a “game changer” in offering “more flexibility to be more innovative” in public sector procurement.

Guy Battle at National Social Value ConferenceGuy Battle (pictured), the CEO of the event hosts, Social Value Portal, said: “This little act, I think it’s transformed the relationship between the public and private sector. It’s impossible for businesses to win work unless it has a social value offer.”

There’s no doubt in my mind we are in the middle of a revolution

He added: “There’s no doubt in my mind we are in the middle of a revolution. Now it’s really time to dial up.” 

Chris White defended the Social Value Act’s slow burn towards impact, pointing out that the act, at only eight pages, had been light-touch while aiming to make a big change in public sector culture.

He pointed out that he was now planning for the next ten years of development with the Social Value 2032 initiative, which will explore how social value considerations can be integrated into 100% of public sector spending as well as the largest private sector companies. 

 

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