Suppliers confused by social value weighting variance

7 December 2017

Suppliers find it difficult to include social value in their tender bids because different authorities give it different weightings, a roundtable was told. 

At a discussion on the future of social value, attended by Chris White, the former Conservative MP who authored the Social Value Act, suppliers explained how even neighbouring London boroughs had different weighting systems in their tenders.

“What we find at the minute is that the social value component varies from borough to borough. One we just submitted for was 2%, and others will have it at 10%, 15%, something like that,” one public sector supplier said.

“In terms of when we’re submitting, obviously we give more emphasis on the percentage that gives 15% rather that 2%. So for our company, we need to focus on our products and services rather than social value,” she added.

The discussion, which took place in Westminster today, was hosted by Social Enterprise UK, a membership body for social enterprises. A social enterprise is any business that exists to tackle a social problem though its commercial business. 

It focused on the findings of a report on the progress of the Social Value Act – officially the Public Services (Social Value) Act – authored by White and published last month.

“At the beginning of this year the government announced that they would undertake a review but we felt that that was slipping,” said White.

“We felt that review might not take place – not least because the minister that announced the review would take place had also found themselves in a similar circumstance that I had,” said White, who lost his seat in the 2017 general election. “So we thought we would help and write a review for the government.”

The review included a number of recommendations, including that the Social Value Act should be extended to include planning, assets and wider infrastructure. It also said the language should be changed – from asking buyers “consider” to making them “account for” social value – forcing buyers to consider the whole procurement cycle from commissioning to contract management.

The report also called for social value to be a core part of regional devolution agreements, and for Brexit to be seen as an opportunity to change public procurement laws.

“The [Social Value] Act was very much defined by European legislation,” said White. “We’re finding that that’s not the case any more; we do not have to be concerned about thresholds or other European procurement laws. We’ve very much setting our own agenda on this.”

What was found to be less encouraging, said Alex Sobel, Labour MP and current chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Value, was that in the government’s recently released industrial strategy, “social value and social welfare generally didn’t feature.” 

Tessa Wright, an academic from Queen Mary University London, said there were a lot of strands of government policy that social value crossed. “There is quite a lot of potential for linking up with existing legislation,” she said.

“It seems to me there are different strands of legislation and guidance coming to local authorities and I can see that there is potential for confusion… Perhaps the social value guidance can be more explicit about how equality and diversity could be an explicit part of social value.”

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