Social value is going to be a permanent fixture within the procurement world. The introduction of the Social Value Act in 2012 confirmed this by ensuring that every organisation procuring services had to take account of the immediate and ongoing output of the work their contracts generate.
Since its introduction, commissioning authorities and bidders have been locked into an uneasy and repetitive cycle on how they conform with the Act.
Social value in procurement
At first glance, it may seem a straightforward proposition, with a transactional relationship where commissioners identify the need clearly, and bidders respond, with compliant tenders scoring the higher marks. However, the past five years have taught us that the direction of social value through public sector business has never been either particularly clear or obvious. Some commissioners struggle to interpret (and quantify) what the Act is asking of them, and to put this into attainable objectives for bidders.
Similarly, suppliers have not always been able to interpret social value questions correctly. All too regularly, we see companies confidently proclaiming that they know exactly what commissioners really want: the most jobs, apprenticeships and cash that they can get for nothing.
The reality is far more nuanced, but also much fairer.
The information available on social value
Out of this uncertainty have emerged social values-specialist membership organisations who attempt to mend the broken understanding at the interface of procurement by formalising and raising awareness of best practice.
The rise of these social enterprises has come in response to the need for information on social value within the business world: what do commissioners want, and what can providers deliver? What is it fair to ask of companies, particularly of SMEs, who are themselves looking to provide people with a living?
As part of our efforts to remain up to date with all matters relating to tenders, we attend best practice workshops and training all the time, aimed at both the procurement and bidding perspective. Our research within these forums has shown us that a consensus on social value is gradually starting to emerge amongst procurement organisations.
Chief amongst the issues that organisations are starting to agree on is the following issue:
What constitutes real social value?
The good news is that this doesn’t necessarily mean a disproportionate amount of apprenticeships, or full-time positions in places where you don’t have offices. You can also evidence positive influence by demonstrating you have purposefully thought about the impact of your social value schemes, and that they can result in genuine, sustainably long-term outcomes, such as:
- Improved self-confidence
- Opportunities to meet new people and be involved in the community
- Fostering and maintaining public support networks
- Support to improve mental, physical and social wellbeing
- Greater sense of pride in a community
- Learning of skills that can lead to employment or greater participation in the community
- Opportunities to access further learning
- Encouragement to enter training and learning that could result in a career
- Promoting community cohesion and participation.
So, if you are a supplier and you have been continually hitting your head against a brick wall thinking about what you can possibly offer, it’s important to remember that everyone can offer something.
It is true that some larger firms are starting to build departments dedicated to generating social value, but if you are an SME it doesn’t have to be a money pit – time and effort are extremely effective in generating social value, too.
However, as a supplier, you should be thinking about how you can embed social value across your organisation and deliver real long-term outcomes. In the future, you will not be able to count on the offer of five dead-end apprenticeships, with the vague promise of a job afterwards, scoring higher than your competitor, who offered a single apprenticeship alongside evidence that they have considered how it will affect participants and the wider community.
As ever, there is some give-and-take: genuine social value can be generated by any number of means and to any number of ends, but it can never be rushed.