MP calls for social value to be part of public contracts

13 November 2012

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13 November 2012 | Anna Reynolds

Local politicians need to “better understand” the communities they serve to develop procurement strategies that will provide most benefit.

Speaking at the Society of Procurement Officers in Local Government annual conference in London yesterday, Chris White, Conservative MP for Warwick and Leamington and author of the Public Services (Social Value) Act, said: “We need to redesign the entire way public bodies procure.

“Local political leaders should better understand the communities they serve and develop strategies that procurement officials can build social values into.”

The Act, which will come into force at the start of next year, places a requirement on public bodies to consider the social, economic and environmental impact when buying public services. White recommended social value be built into any contract at the pre-procurement stage and described the potential of social value as “limitless”.

“We need a more engaging procurement process, where the public feels involved in the delivery of the services they use,” he said. White added that a diverse set of bidders is required for each tender and the public sector must consult with charities, volunteer champions and residents to come up with solutions.

White said that the Act is key to bringing down public service costs in the long-term by focusing on “prevention”. By incorporating social benefits into the delivery of public services, the aim is that less people will need to rely on public services in the future.

When asked if the government was pressing the Act on the private sector, White said “not as much”, explaining that the private sector already has the advantage of resources behind it to demonstrate best practice. But he said the private sector can learn more from the public sector and SMEs.

Another member of the audience raised the concern that the Act would conflict with EU law. David Hansom, partner at lawyers Veale Wasbrough Vizards who was also speaking at the conference, said: “The government's view is that there is no conflict between the Act and the EU directives. Clearly, authorities need to ensure socio-economic criteria are only used where relevant to the subject matter of the contract in each case.

“The remedies directive, which contains rights to suspend contract awards and cancellation, applies to higher value contracts although largely not to part B services. Buyers may be more nervous on the impact of a challenge on improper criteria for bigger contracts.”

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