The CBI’s Valued Partnerships report is a welcome step in the right direction for businesses contracted by the public sector.
It asks the government for better clarity, consistency and measurement when it comes to understanding and delivering social value. Yet if social value is really going to have an impact in the communities most affected by Covid, then it’s time for procurers and suppliers to recognise their own responsibilities when it comes to building back better.
In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s easy to see how social value might fall by the wayside in favour of economic survival, but the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, while the UK government announces tax cuts, spending incentives, cash grants and loans to help the economy recover from Covid, it is a real missed opportunity to not insist that the suppliers offer social as well as economic value in their bids.
The government might be hoping the impact of its emergency expenditure might trickle down the supply chain, but it won’t be enough given that a lot of these contracts will be awarded to one of the UK government’s 34 strategic suppliers.
So what can those on either side of the procurement process be doing to prioritise social, as well as economic, recovery?
Five things to do for public sector procurers:
1. Talk to your suppliers. Emphasise how important social value is to you and find out what they can offer. What are they already doing and what ideas do they have to support people living in the community where the contract is being delivered? Do they have a corporate responsibility initiative that could be refocused? What opportunities are there for local content in the supply chain and local job creation?
2. Talk to your third sector and community groups to find out what they need. Focus on the organisations serving the communities and sectors that have been most impacted by Covid.
3. Review your contracts register and identify procurement opportunities that could be matched with social value initiatives. For example, contracts for anything to do with housing could support initiatives that tackle homelessness. Speak to the category managers of these contracts and make sure they are aware of the needs of your community groups.
4. Try and include social value in as many of your contracts as possible. You should be considering social value at the start of any procurement process and not just trying to meet the limited number prescribed by the Social Value Act. Liverpool City Council is a great example of an organisation doing this well.
5. Update your social value or community benefits policy to take into account the impact Covid has had on your region. If you use a points system to score social value, ensure initiatives that support the sectors that have been hit the hardest score maximum points. If you don’t have a social value policy, write one. Bristol City Council is a great example.
And four things organisations bidding for public sector contracts can do.
It’s not just procurers who can take action. Suppliers have a role to play too.
1. Research relevant organisations and contact them. Find out what they need and design your offer around that. Identify the groups who are most disadvantaged and use whatcharity.com’s online dashboard to get an idea of what charities’ most urgent needs are. The most impactful social value is proportional and relevant; offer to provide resources and skills pro bono to charities and community groups whose work most aligns with the contract.
2. Don’t take the furlough bonus if you win a contract.
3. Commit to creating a certain percentage of jobs via the government’s Kickstart Scheme to employ young people aged 16-24 to help deliver the contract. Work with the local authoritys’ employability support teams to identify pathways for young people into employment in your business.
4. Embed a local social enterprise or supported business in the supply chain – this directory from BASE is UK-wide and searchable by location, which makes it a great reference point.
The 2012 Public Service (Social Value) Act has never been more important. If those at the heart of the commissioning process can start to focus on how money spent on commissioned goods and services can also help those most impacted by the pandemic, it will not only help the value of that money go further, it will have a positive long-term impact on society and the economy as a whole.
☛ Sarah Stone is director at social value agency Samtaler