It is a short and sweet piece of legislation. Very simply, it requires every English public body (and many Welsh ones), whenever it is about to procure services, to consider how those services might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the surrounding area, and how, the public body might use the procurement process to secure that improvement.

One of the powerhouses behind this legislation, ably steered through Parliament by Chris White MP, is Social Enterprise UK, which hosted its Social Value Conference on 20 November, bringing together a large audience that represent the tip of an iceberg of collective activity galvanised by the Act. At the conference Social Enterprise UK launched new guidance “The Social Value Guide: Implementing the Public Services (Social Value) Act”.  This guide explains the Act, describes social value, and then sets out some guidelines on how to put the Act into practice.

Charities will want to ensure that the public bodies they engage with are taking a constructive approach to the Act.  One practical way of doing so is to ensure that the public bodies they deal with have taken the steps envisaged by the guide.

A key component of the Act is the requirement that public bodies consider the economic, social and environmental well-being of the areas that they serve. This has been common practice for local authorities for at least a decade: it is easy to do so when there is clear geographical area to apply this thinking.  Housing associations and NHS bodies should also find this perfectly within their competence. It is more difficult possibly for Government departments with national remits to reflect in these terms.

To help this thought process charities should check whether the local authority in their area and other public bodies they engage with have adopted an identifiable social value policy as recommended by the guide.  Rather than a set of loose commitments, a social value policy can and should be defined in terms of the benefits that it promotes, such as:

  • promoting training and employment opportunities for under-represented groups, for example for youth employment, women’s employment, the long-term unemployed and people with physical or learning disabilities;
  • promoting compliance with social and labour law, including related national and international policy commitments/agendas;
  • promoting SMEs and civil society organisations through an observance of existing duties of equal treatment, proportionality and transparency and by making subcontracting opportunities more visible;
  • promoting fair and ethical trading;
  • ensuring more effective and efficient public expenditure;
  • contributing to health improvement priorities;
  • stimulating demand for environmentally-friendly goods, services and works;
  • contributing to climate change mitigation targets and to energy efficiency.

Other practical steps that your charity can take include:

  1. Considering what social value you create, and how best to measure and record that value so that the information can be used to strengthen tenders to deliver public services.
  2. Contacting the public bodies you work with to encourage them to help develop priorities and criteria to ensure they secure as much social value as possible when procuring services.
  3. Consider how you should measure success in your charity’s efforts to deliver social value.
  4. Ensure you can explain why your charity should deliver any particular contract and what added social value you offer.
  5. Remember to ensure that the remainder of your tender is at least as strong as the section on social value.

If you believe a public body has failed in its duties under the Act or has not complied fully with the wider requirements of procurement law, there may be scope for a legal challenge.  Strict time limits apply to such challenges and advice should be sought at an early stage to identify the most effective means of raising your concerns with the public body.

What the Social Value Act does is to counter the “am I bovvered?” behaviours that can typify so many parts of the public arena. It’s part of a journey that should lead to greater resilience and more collaboration in times when the conventional is often unaffordable.

Shivaji Shiva is a Senior Associate and charity sector specialist at Anthony Collins Solicitors.  Mark Cook is a partner at Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP and helped to write the new guide: “The Social Value Guide: Implementing the Public Services (Social Value) Act”.

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