You’re On Mute…Social Value a post-COVID world

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You’re On Mute…Social Value a post-COVID world

You’re on mute: Social value a post-COVID world

By Guy Battle, CEO

It’s been a funny old year and we have all had to learn to deal with a new reality. For some, this has meant urgently procuring PPE, and for others, it has meant dealing with the wider social and health impacts on our communities. There has been so much heroism to reflect upon and there is much to say about the lessons learned, but that is for another calmer time, when we have finally emerged from it all.

For the moment, I would like to focus on the future direction of social value which despite the challenges it has faced during the pandemic (more important things to do…), seems to have actually grown in importance.

Taking action

A major milestone was the launch in September of the UK Government Procurement Policy Note – Taking Account of Social Value in the Award of Central Government Contracts PPN 06/20, that requires all central government organisations to take account of the additional social benefits that can be achieved in the delivery of social value, and that it should be explicitly evaluated in all central government procurement.

This policy note is a game changer and adds momentum to the already accelerating uptake of social value within local government. The policy will become mandatory from 1st January and will impact all suppliers to government. It is also seeming very likely that this will lead to a far wider and quicker uptake within the private sector, signs of which are already emerging.

At a local government level, councils are now back on track after being diverted during the spring and summer; and are buying things other than PPE. However, they are now faced with the dual challenge of reduced spending AND the need to help communities recover and renew after the pandemic, and so it is inevitable that public sector buyers will be asking their suppliers to do more. Social value weightings in evaluation are already at 10-15%. With Manchester about to move to a 30% weighting, and assuming this works, then other will likely follow. Consequently, if a business does not have a social value policy, it will not win work with the public sector, and so public sector buyers will need to focus on building local capacity and capabilities to ensure that its local supply chain does not miss out.

Whilst the main tide is flowing in the direction of procurement, there are a number of little eddies developing that look like they might grow into major new currents.

Picking up in planning

The first is the planning process – this is obvious to anyone who has their nose to the ground and has been reading the runes, such as the Civil Society Strategy published in August 2018 that explicitly states that social value has an important role within the planning process. Since then, several leading councils have begun to include social value requirements within their Local Plans (e.g. Islington) and now look to require developers to submit their social value proposals as a part of their planning applications. This pivotal change is likely to transform the planning process, requiring developers to explain the wider social contribution that their development will have on the local community. It will encourage them to put specific plans and processes in place to deliver, manage and report social value across construction and into occupation. It is yet to be seen how these requirements will be integrated into the legal process planning, but it looks as though the most expected landing place will be within the Section 106 requirements, or within new planning conditions, for which there are many precedents.

Place Based Procurement

The other undercurrent is the move towards Place Based Procurement, which will see anchor institutions within a region working together on a common social value framework to deliver against local needs. At Social Value Portal, we are looking at how the National TOMs, a national social value measurement framework endorsed by the Local Government Association, can be used to reflect a collective strategy that allows buyers within a region to pool their resources and buy against a common set of goals. Social value is a unifying theme and we have found that it offers an apolitical platform across which many parties can coalesce and collaborate, including councils, education, health and blue light housing associations. Importantly, it also allows private sector organisations to get involved by using their own buying powers and business solutions to deliver common social value.

The need to collaborate across all sectors has never been greater.  As the prospective vaccine allows us to emerge blinking into the sunlight after a year-long hibernation, we have come to realise that our communities will never be the same, and the only way for recovery will be by working together using our collective endeavours – including procurement and planning – to help build back, not only better, but also greener and fairer.

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First published in Public Sector Executive Magazine December 2020/January 2021 Issue