Mims Davies has called for “really bold” progress to be made on implementation of the government’s reforms to the Social Value Act, but warned against adding “complexity” to the procurement process.
The minister for civil society was speaking at the launch of a report by Social Enterprise UK (SEUK), which revealed that an estimated 45 per cent of councils now have a social value procurement policy, compared to just 25 per cent in a 2016 survey by the organisation. SEUK’s latest survey, which received over 180 responses from local government professionals, found that two-thirds of local councils now have “a good understanding” of social value.
It also found that 42 per cent of councils said that social value has reduced social inequalities and 82 per cent believe that social value drives higher levels of growth. Davies hailed the figures in the report and said the Social Value Act, which encourages commissioners to consider social value during procurement processes, had been “ground-breaking”. However, Davies said: “We know in our hearts as yet it is yet to reach its full potential. It is patchy and it hasn’t quite reached its full potential.” ‘Must not add complexity’ Davies called for social enterprises and charities to respond to the government’s consultation on its plans to update how central government uses the Social Value Act.
As announced in the consultation document, Davies said 4,000 central government buyers are being trained on “embedding fully and understanding social value in our procurement”. Davies said the government was also working on a number of high-level opportunities including a plan to “build in social value” into its delivery of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
The main focus of the consultation is on the introduction of an “evaluation model” to test whether social value is being adequately incorporated into central government procurement. But Davies said the reforms must not “add complexity or cost to the procurement process”. She said: “Let’s vitally not put anybody off. I think it is vital that we absolutely do not restrict our market or unintentionally exclude parts of the supply base.” She added: “Our aim, it has to be, is to keep it simple for those buying goods and services and vitally for those bidding. Then we can build upon this and develop greater sophistication down the line.” ‘Let’s be bold’ A member of the audience suggested that a requirement for central government commissioners to give a 20 per cent weighting to social value was needed to “move the needle”. She also suggested that a part of the act about “bringing the community in to shape the priorities” had been “lost” and called for more work to be done on what the public wants from procurement.
Davies did not address the suggestions directly but said: “Let’s be really bold on this. I think it is a great opportunity, and we are at a point where people want innovation and change.” ‘Expand the act’ SEUK’s report made a number of suggestions for how the act could be improved. In particular, it recommended that “government should extend the Social Value Act to cover goods and works as well as services”. It also called for the government to include social value within its Industrial Strategy and other major policy strategies. SEUK said: “We welcome the renewed leadership by the government in championing social value, but it is important that the golden thread of social value is woven through all its major policy statements.”
The report also warned that the government’s proposed framework for evaluating social value could be restrictive to charity bidders if it were “too rigid”. It said: “The more rigid the framework, the more likely it is that innovative social value – often generated by smaller, more local providers such as social enterprises, SMEs and charities will be missed.”