As 2022 marks 10 years since the Public Services (Social Value) Act came into force, Guy Battle takes stock of where we are, and how things look for the year to come.
It has been almost an entire decade since the Social Value Act received Royal Assent and people became obliged to secure wider social, economic and environmental benefits when commissioning public services. Although the movement got off to a slow start, the public sector led the way, normalising social value in commercial activities and receiving a positive response from the supply market. Since then, the adoption of social value has rapidly gained momentum across all sectors – even before COVID-19 and the climate emergency necessitated a more serious look at social value.
Whilst the pandemic continues to throw enormous challenges at us, there have been some positive developments. Concern for environmental, social, and economic issues have formed a large part of the narrative, and the remote workforce has had a unique opportunity to appreciate a renewed sense of community. This has instigated increased conversations within businesses about what can be done to add value to a community, as well as adding value to the business itself.
Measuring and reporting social value is the key, businesses feel more comfortable making social value commitments if they can report value generation to stakeholders and shareholders clearly and tangibly. Overall, the past decade has seen a deeper understanding and appreciation of how social value cannot just help a community to thrive, but also boost a business’s bottom line. The key now lies in maintaining this momentum, building a fairer, greener, and better society, and ensuring that initiatives make a genuinely positive impact.
Why is social value so important?
With public funding stretched to its limits as the government tries to recover from the cost of the pandemic, the business world has an opportunity to fill a gap and shape a fairer future for all. This may sound too altruistic to be believable, but businesses, in turn, will gain from this. By embedding social value into business practice, lives will be enriched and prospects improved, which creates a stronger, more resilient workforce and ultimately a stronger, more resilient business.
During the last election, our government pledged to address regional inequality and level up the country. Two years on and levelling up (perhaps understandably) still has a way to go. Social value initiatives in more disadvantaged areas of the country will, of course, improve circumstances for residents, which should, in turn, go some way towards helping to level up the country.
Building a more responsible and community-focused supply chain is equally crucial as the trickle-down effect spreads the social value net further, helping to maximise environmental and social wellbeing at every level.
How to persuade colleagues to ‘buy in’ to social value
There has been a lot of talk about social value recently, but it can still be a challenge to see how a business can truly benefit. Stories of businesses who have seen the positive impact of social value for themselves is a great way to engage a possible sceptic. Social Value Portal works with a not-for-profit company called Nuneaton Signs which employs people with disabilities to sell and manufacture signs. Where once the ‘not for profit’ label sometimes acted as a barrier, things have changed since they positioned themselves as a social enterprise. Nuneaton Signs has been able to show how every sign bought by a customer has the power to change lives, encouraging customers to buy into the social value movement themselves – and add to their own responsible supply chain.
In 2017, Social Value Portal worked alongside the independent National Social Value Taskforce to launch the National TOMs Framework. The framework provides organisations with a widely recognised minimum reporting standard for measuring social value. Organisations can procure, measure, manage and maximise their social value, integrating standards into the measurement approach. It is endorsed by the Local Government Association and is spreading rapidly throughout the local government sector, as well as being adopted by the NHS Sustainable Development Unit.
Four trends for social value in 2022
- Sectors who have been slow to pick up the Act will accelerate to full integration as they see the benefits of embedding social value into their supplier engagement strategies. The health sector will see an important milestone on 1st April when the NHS introduces a mandatory minimum 10% weighting for social value in all procurement. Also, with the publication of PPN06/20, we will, at last, see Central Government getting its act together as they are now mandated to include a minimum 10% social value weighting on all procurements.
- Integration of social value into the planning process. We recently collaborated with the National Social Value Taskforce to study how embedding social value into the planning process could not only deliver better places to live and work, but also help to build trust in local planning and development. Developers are beginning to understand that submitting a robust social value statement with a planning application has the potential not only to win the contract, but to also generate social value.
- A push towards ‘place-based social value creation’ will see local authorities taking the lead in promoting cross-sector collaboration. This will include engaging other public bodies, major businesses, the SME community and the third sector. The challenge lies in working together, pooling our resources to help our communities thrive and flourish.
- Finally, the climate challenge is here to stay. Following COP26, we will see an increased focus on climate change and how we can facilitate environmental regeneration. We will need to act locally but think globally, which will involve creating net-zero services and supply chains.
Our biggest hope for 2022 is to see more organisations pledging to become Social Value Creators, taking bold steps to make a change for good so that we can build a better, fairer, and more sustainable society for generations to come.
Article first published in Open Access Government January 2022 Edition. Read the full edition here.