Taxpayers will pay if social and environmental benefits aren’t delivered through public spending, Claire Dove warns

The woman who acts as a contact point between the social enterprise and voluntary sector and the UK government emphasises the economic case for the role of the sector in delivering public contracts at the UK National Social Value Conference.

Delivering social value in public procurement will save the taxpayer money, and the UK government shouldn’t miss this opportunity, crown representative Claire Dove told delegates at the National Social Value Conference on Thursday.

Dove, former chair of membership body Social Enterprise UK, is crown representative for the voluntary, charity and social enterprise (VCSE) sector. Crown representatives work with the UK government to represent particular groups of providers looking to gain contracts from the public sector. On Thursday, Dove delivered a keynote speech online on the second day of the conference.

Dove said society was facing a “very troubled future” if the public sector didn’t come together with social enterprises and voluntary organisations to support communities – not least to “level up” left-behind areas of the UK. 

A missed opportunity to deliver social and environmental value may lead to costs that the taxpayer has to absorb elsewhere

This wasn’t just the “moral thing to do” – the economy also depended on this happening, she insisted. People earning a true living wage and being able to have a “decent lifestyle” would lead to fair economic growth as they spent their money in their local areas – which would also benefit the private sector.

“Hopefully, the public sector, central and local government realise that a missed opportunity to deliver social and environmental value may lead to costs that the taxpayer has to absorb elsewhere,” she said. “So if you don't do it by social value, you are all going to pay for it. And it's a wasted resource.” 


The key to the solutions

Dove explained why social value in public procurement had the potential to make a major impact, first because of the sheer amount of money the government was spending each year – £262bn a year including £49bn from central government alone, according to her estimate. 

She said: “Government has the responsibility of ensuring that every pound of taxpayers’ money works for the wider good of our environment, our economy, and most of all, our communities. 

“Government centrally, regionally and locally, and the wider public sector has a huge responsibility to maximise these benefits… It cannot afford not to do so.”

The sector, if given the right opportunities, can be the catalyst for change

Social enterprises and voluntary organisations held the solutions to dealing with the current crisis of Covid-19 and the rise of living costs, she said. 

“How do you deal with poverty, homelessness, skill shortages, health and wellbeing, climate change and the impact of Covid? … The sector, if given the right opportunities, can be the catalyst for change.”

With their “creativity and entrepreneurship”, and the trust of the communities they served, VCSE organisations held the “key to the solutions” to these challenges, she added.

And the social enterprise movement had “brought trading to a whole new level of openness and transparency” which had been seized upon by the private sector, Dove said.


Government engagement

A number of policy developments showed the government’s interest in using social value for good, according to Dove. 

The change in the Social Value Act last year, which required the government – central and local – to measure and report social value in all procurement, rather than just “considering” it as it was the case before, was the “landmark day that I was hoping would happen as a crown representative”, she said.

She added every government department now had social value champions, but the change was taking time, she acknowledged.

Government had also indicated it wanted to embed social value in the Covid-19 recovery and its levelling up strategy (set out in a white paper published in February). The levelling up white paper set out some new rules for public procurement, including reserving some contracts for SMEs and the VCSE sector, Dove explained. “It's great for small organisations, contracting with the government for the first time”.

Many in the social enterprise sector reacted negatively to the levelling up white paper at the time, saying it was a missed opportunity to change the role of business and was too focussed on the public sector.


Top picture: Claire Dove

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