Leadership needed to drive social value in public sector

24 May 2019

Leadership is required at all levels of local government to ensure social value policies are effective, according to a report.

In the report Putting Social Value at the Heart of Inclusive Growth, Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) outlined how the public sector needs to change its approach to social value by applying it on a wider basis and building strategies to increase inclusive economic growth.

Leadership is needed to drive social value in all stages of procurement not just pre-procurement, said the report. Corporate targets are far more likely to be achieved and exceeded when social value is also factored into “transactions, supply chains, contract management, asset management and planning decisions”.

Improvements to knowledge and implementation are key to wider adoption of social value, as the survey showed only five councils out of 118 said they offered training or induction for members on social value. SEUK recommend having a “social value budget” alongside the financial budget for such investments in upskilling and resources.

For local government to take action it needs control over where the budget is spent, but recent action by central government has discouraged this through “legal constraints around competition and diminishing choice”, according to the report.

Strong leadership from members, senior officers, chief executives and finance directors is needed to resolve this and improve the direction and capacity of social value in local councils. SEUK said a top-down approach is effective, with the CEO leading investments in training and the curation of relationships with suppliers and stakeholders in the community.

The report found that efforts needed to be made to create collaborations between the public sector, institutions, businesses, suppliers, and communities. This will communicate better understanding of the larger social benefits and ensure widespread economic growth.  

Measurement of social impact is critical, found the report, as this ensures wider social value approaches are adopted and grow in local council operations. Perception of the measurement of social value needs to be addressed as the majority of councils “accept that there are certain aspects of social value that can’t be quantified”, with only 18.9% of respondents believing otherwise, the survey found. This is due to lack of confidence and understanding in how to use data, including qualitative data, to make measurements.  

Over half of respondents to the survey agreed that more guidance and a better framework for measurement is needed. Current frameworks, such as the National Themes, Outcomes, and Measures (TOMs) Framework, has restricted the social value approaches available as it can give the “impression that what they can do is defined by the framework”, said the report. Councils with stronger leadership adapted the TOMs framework to meet local priorities.

There was little interest in a “national, centralised measurement approach”, with 60% of chief executive respondents saying it was not important, and that this may limit innovation and creativity in local government.

SEUK recommended the Public Value Framework, Best Value Guidance and the Cabinet Office’s emerging Social Value Framework are merged to create a collaborative Social & Public Value Framework for improved coordination between different frameworks. This could also encourage public bodies to work together during decision-making processes.

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