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26 February 2014 | Will Green
A Parliamentary roundtable group including public and private sector buyers has called on the government to set up a task force to establish a clear methodology to measure social value in the commissioning process.
The group, set up by Labour MP Hazel Blears to help implement the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, wants the task force to consider financial and non-financial benefits and to develop best practice guidelines.
A meeting of the group at Westminster yesterday, attended by minister for civil society Nick Hurd and shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, was told there was no single way to measure social value and there was a need for additional guidance and training.
A survey carried out by Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) found 81 per cent of public sector buyers had taken steps to identify social value criteria, and 75 per cent had issued tenders including such criteria, but almost a third felt there was a lack of guidance on the law.
David Wathey, head of sustainable procurement at the Department of Health, told the meeting: "Our focus is very much on how we can encourage adoption of this bill."
Kevin Hurst, marketing and communications director at Veolia, who helped compile a report on the issue, said: “You can measure some items financially but some things you know there’s an outcome but you can’t measure it.
“We need guidance and there needs to be training and support for those people. We need to make sure the value of this act is not subsumed by cost. It needs to be simple for businesses; it needs to be simple for local authorities.”
Guy Battle, director of the Sustainable Business Partnership, said: “Local authorities are going to need a methodology that is comparable.”
There were also calls for the Act, which currently covers public sector commissioning of services, to be extended to goods and construction.
Peter Holbrook, chief executive of SEUK, said: “Let’s extend the act. Let’s see how far we can go.” But he warned: “We need to keep it proportionate and simple.”
Blears said: “You don’t have to spend extra money – you just spend your money in a smarter way.”
Businesses asked what incentives would be offered by the government. Rhoda Steel, head of corporate social responsibility at Johnson & Johnson, said: “How do we convince our business to embark on this? We definitely want to go on it in a big way but what are the incentives?”