‘Make yourself accessible’ to drive social value

Spending the time to develop a collaborative relationship with suppliers is key to achieving social value, a public sector buyer has said.

Public procurers can take practical steps to engage with potential suppliers, including scheduling meet-the-buyer sessions out of work hours. 

“It’s easy to say, ‘Yes we’ve held this event to explain the procurement process to small businesses’,” said Cindy Nadesam, procurement improvement officer for Orbis, a partnership between East Sussex and Surrey County Councils. 

“But if we’re holding those kinds of events during the day, during public sector working hours, it’s not convenient for businesses,” she added.

“A lot of it is very simple when you look at it, and people say, ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense'. But initially it does require the work to be put in in order to get to that point. And that’s why a lot of public sector organisations are shying away from it,” she said.

Under the Social Value Act 2012, procurers of public sector services need to consider what wider social, economic and environmental benefits they can achieve through contracts over a certain value.

The Act was designed to be a tool to help the public sector unlock more value from their procurement. However, a review last year lead by Lord Young found the awareness, understanding and implementation of the legislation was still lacking

“The thing is that collaboration and working in partnership is never easy, not to begin with anyway,” said Nadesam, who has spent the last 18 months working to make social value part of “business as usual” procurement.

Nadesam said initial supplier pushback usually comes from the expectation that social values will create an additional cost for them. 

“Some of the challenges [are]: ‘This is going to cost us more money; it’s going to be too difficult; if we’re not based locally that’s discrimination’…  Where that changes is when we actually take the time to explain what we mean,” she said.

“It’s taken a good 18 months. But I think, for other authorities, what they need to accept and understand is that it’s not something that somebody can just walk into… Because it does require getting people on board. Initially it is about engagement and communication,” she said.

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