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Delivering social value

Hands up who knows about the Social Value Act? Going by the reaction of the audience when we raised the topic at the Homes Event last month, the answer seems to be ‘too few’.Yet, come January, the Social Value Act will have been in force for two years. It was passed with unanimous cross-party backing and was welcomed as having “the potential to transform the way public services are commissioned”.Simply put, the Act requires public authorities to take into account not just the costs when commissioning services, but also the wider social and environmental impacts.Perhaps such considerations are nothing new to service commissioners and providers, but now they are set in stone – every contract must include these provisions.As the UK’s largest provider of social housing repairs and maintenance and a leading provider of home care and support services, in the past two years we have seen more and more clients talking the language of social value. The tenders we receive are either very prescriptive of their requirements – for example, we want X number of apprentices – or they are more open-ended, looking for creative solutions to persistent problems, such as what can you do to help tackle long-term unemployment?So, how do commissioners get the most social value from their contracts? Here is our advice…Set a standard of expectationA useful approach is to set out a standard of expectation from the start, so everyone’s on a level playing field. For example, Birmingham City Councilcreated a social charter, setting out a number of core principles, which suppliers need to sign-up to – for example, they expect contractors to pay employees a living wage.Be local and be specificThe Social Value Act allows plenty of flexibility, so commissioners should create contracts specific to the needs of the local area. For example, if a housing estate has high levels of joblessness, they may pick a supplier with a training provider. In our experience, the more specific a contract, the more you will get from your contractor – you will find someone who has carefully considered your needs. Note, however, that being too prescriptive can stifle innovation.Get under suppliers’ skinDoes your supplier really live by its values – is it in their DNA? Your main point of contact may have all the answers, but what about the rest of the organisation – how far do their standards stretch along the supplychain? Again, set specific goals and benchmark performance against them.Be innovative with your questionsHow will you work with small local firms to create and sustain innovation? How will you work with us to improve the self-confidence of communities? How will you use your skills for the wider benefit of the community? What do you see as the legacy – and how will you achieve it?In essence, ask yourself: what questions will get my suppliers thinking?Be realistic and proportionateNever lose focus of the key elements of the actual service needed, despite taking into account the wider benefits. And don’t view the social values as a tithe, a way of squeezing extra benefits for no extra cost.Commissioners must view contracts as a way of creating partnerships, bringing people together to harness the skills of our communities and achieve more.


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