Tim Pope 26 February 2021

Social value going upstream

Social value going upstream image

Approaching a decade on since the Social Value Act 2012, there has never been a better time for social value to become more than something considered alongside procurement and become the purpose of public services themselves. This would truly represent a step change in government ambitions to build back better and level up, by encouraging social value considerations to go upstream and rewire the purpose of public expenditure.

Progress of social value considerations has been gathering pace since the commencement of the Act in 2013. Largely gone are the days where the concept needed to be explained, both to procurers and providers, with an increasing number of public bodies, from local government to national agencies, making clear their policies and increasing procurement evaluation weightings.

Suppliers are now making commitments that are integral to their approach, not seen as an add on to their core service. Developments like the National TOMS Framework (themes, outcomes, measures) and the Social Value Portal work in helping to promote, quantify, and make real commitments, are becoming increasingly familiar to anyone who is bidding for work, particularly in local government.

Whereas just a few years ago, good practice considered a 10-20% of procurement evaluation to be related to social value. Today we see councils, such as Bristol, where 20% is the minimum ambition, and there is a focus on spending 40% of total spend with micro, small and medium sized businesses, social enterprises and voluntary and community organisations.

Finding the source – thinking differently

Greater Manchester recently updated its already strong framework in response to COVID-19 on the basis that social value should be part of all ‘business’ and should be used as a talking point and guiderails for achieving policy goals.

Dan Heath’s stimulating book ‘Upstream’ captures this well in recognising that: 'We all have a tendency to work around problems. We are resourceful. We improvise. We’re so accustomed to dealing with emergencies that we don’t stop to think about how we could prevent them in the first place.'

The questions he poses, and that leading authorities are starting to ask, could be the principles that underpin planning for a golden age of public services:

  • How will you unite the right people?
  • How will you change the system?
  • Where can you find a point of leverage?
  • How will you get early warning of the problem?
  • How will you know you’re succeeding?
  • How will you avoid doing harm?
  • Who will pay for what does not happen?

The pandemic has shown just how brilliant our public services can be in dealing with emergencies and finding solutions. Making these questions part of the planning for recovery might mean we don’t look to just build back better, but to build forward.

More than recovery – the opportunity to renew and redesign

That was the ambition of our work with Sovereign Housing Association in the immediate response to the pandemic, ensuring that services were not just recovered, but renewed and redesigned where possible, to become more customer-centric and in line with the organisation’s ambition.

Our work with local councils is also looking forward, focussing on reform conversations with ambitious district authorities, who want to do more than reshuffle the deck chairs in the name of efficiency. Our clients want to rethink how they organise to enhance impact as well as effectiveness and efficiency.

For some authorities, particularly in Somerset and Morecambe Bay, an invitation to submit reorganisation proposals has been a vessel for taking forward conversations about doing different things, not just doing it differently. But for others, it is the anticipation of further funding reductions and possible devolution.

What unites them is a clear ambition to ask what more can be done at source to change the complex systems and challenges of the world today, whether that is tackling the climate emergency, creating skills for future industries or ensuring people have access to homes and places that they can afford.

Taking social value upstream requires us to ask different questions and create the conditions in which the challenges can be shared and solved together. At PA, we are excited by the opportunity to rewire public services and create ingenious solutions for a positive tomorrow.

Tim Pope is a local government expert at PA Consulting

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