Social value should be ‘front and centre’

posted by Francis Churchill
4 October 2018

Any political party serious about governing needs to put social value “front and centre”, the policy’s architect has said.

Chris White, the former Conservative MP whose private member's bill became the Public Services (Social Value) Act, said the law’s impact had been “exclusively positive” and that government was becoming increasingly aware there was an appetite for it.

Speaking at the eWorld procurement conference in London, White said: “When the dust has settled after this party conference season, and when we come to the next general election – albeit I hope not imminently – any party serious about governing this country will include social value front and centre in their manifesto.”

White, who is now the director of the Institute for Industrial Strategy at King’s College London, said the Act had “come a long way” since it was passed into law.

Describing the progression of the law, White said in order to pass the initial bill, its wording was “the lightest touch”, stating only that procurement authorities needed to “consider” social value. “This light touch bill has become a very significant piece of legislation,” he said.

“The social enterprise sector applying the Act is worth £60bn in terms of GDP, it employs 2m, which accounts for 5% of the UK workforce. This is three times the size of the agricultural sector and, in terms of employment, as many as the creative sector.”

White also welcomed changes that took place as a result of the collapse of Carillion. Echoing the tone of minister for the cabinet office David Lidington’s speech, in which he announced the changes to the Act, White said the contractor’s collapse served as an “important symbol” of the importance of trust between government, the private sector and the public.

“[The public] are the ones who benefit if we do our jobs right, they are the ones who lose out if the level of trust between us is damaged or broken,” he said.

In June, Lidington extended the powers of the Act so that public agencies had to “explicitly evaluate” the social value impact of procurements where appropriate, rather than simply consider them. He announced all 4,000 government commercial buyers would be trained on social value.

At the time, Lidington said the changes to the Act would “go some way to restoring trust between government, industry and the public”.

White said: “To train all 4,000 of the government’s commercial buyers is good news to the sector. The government is responding to concerns, so let’s hope this will go some way to preventing the next Carillion.”

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