Ben & Jerry’s started sourcing brownie chunks for their ice cream from a social enterprise in 1988 ©PA Images
Ben & Jerry’s started sourcing brownie chunks for their ice cream from a social enterprise in 1988 ©PA Images

What do ice cream, ex-convicts and austerity have in common?

10 February 2017

Ice cream is not always the first think you think of when trying to rehabilitate ex-inmates. 

But next time you tuck into a tub of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream, think of this: in 1988 the firm starting sourcing its brownies from a social enterprise that offers employment to those struggling to find work, including ex-convicts. 

But where once upon a time a firm would decide how much it wanted to give back to society, increasingly in the UK firms supplying the public sector will have to incorporate social value into their businesses.

The legal framework behind this is of course the 2012 Public Services (Social Value) Act but, as well as the law, there are political and economic forces at work.

The weight the government is giving to the issue was demonstated by the appearance of minister for civil society Rob Wilson at the Social Value Summit in London.

“When procuring contracts, local authorities are now raising the bar, asking potential contractors to say what they will do for the local area,” said Wilson.

“My priority is… first, a public sector that is a catalyst for innovation and gets much more social impact for every single pound that we spend.”

In the UK, hard times are expected for public budgets at least until 2020. The Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank says the government's aim to meet a target of eliminating the budget deficit by the next parliament will require the finding of £34bn. Local authorities will have to be more creative about how they deliver services, and driving social value through procurement is one of the ways they can do this. 

But it's not just the public sector and those supplying it who are seeing the benefits; working for social value can also make good business sense. As Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at M&S says: “It’s about traceability in the supply chains, it’s about closing the loop, it’s about driving value down to the supply chains so that of millions of people benefit from participation.”

It has also never been more important reputationally for firms to show that they and their supply chains provide social value. CSR is dead, says Rob Wolfe, founder of Construction and Housing Yorkshire, a social enterprise, and businesses need to change their culture and make social value part of their model.

And it starts with individuals within a company. “Every single best practice example… [is] delivered by an individual. It’s an individual within an organisation that’s driven that agenda, that’s driven that change, to make those projects as successful as they are,” said Wolfe.

It just might be that the pursuit of social value could form the perfect confluence between financial sense and social conscience.

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