Government plans to 'level the playing field' for charities bidding for contracts

12 Mar 2019 News

Oliver Dowden speaking at the Social Value Summit in London

The Cabinet Office has said it wants to “level the playing field” for charities bidding for central government contracts. 

Yesterday, the government opened a 12-week consultation on measures that would see the introduction of an “evaluation model” to test whether social value is being adequately incorporated into central government procurement.

The evaluation model includes a suggestion that procurement professionals consider “ensuring supply chains are accessible to all types of businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSEs)”.

According to the consultation document, the model will provide a way for procurement professionals to evaluate social value policies.

It says: “All bidders should benefit from the new approach since they will be able to demonstrate their added social value when bidding, which will level the playing field for SMEs and VCSEs in particular.”

However, it only proposes that government departments put a minimum 10 per cent weighting on evaluating social value in bidding processes and describes the latest proposals as “light touch”.

It also says that “the overarching objective for the government’s commercial activities will remain achieving the best commercial outcome”.

‘Tick box exercise’

Speaking at the consultation’s launch in London yesterday, Oliver Dowden, parliamentary secretary at the Cabinet Office, said commissioners had not given enough consideration to the Social Value Act, which requires them to consider the wider value added to society by each bidder.

He said: “Too often the Act has been treated as a tick-box exercise rather than a purposeful consideration of social value.

“Alternatively, if designed badly, social value requirements can act as a barrier to entry for civil society organisations.”

He added: “This government will ensure that contracts are awarded on the basis of more than just value for money but companies’ values too.”

Strengthened Act

The government previously announced its intention to strengthen the Social Value Act, and it has now confirmed that this has come into effect without legislative change.

As of Monday, all major procurements will be required to “explicitly evaluate” social value rather than to “just consider it".

This will apply to central government and arm’s length bodies such as the Environment Agency but not NHS or local government.

Probation services pilot

Dowden said the government was piloting its social value framework in its current redesign of procurement services, which have previously been criticised for not making best use of voluntary organisations.

He said: “Right now, we are working closely with the Ministry of Justice to bring these principles to probation services.

“We have a real opportunity in the ongoing redesign of probation services, we want to expand the role of the voluntary and social enterprise sector, increase community involvement, support staff and service users with protected characteristics and positive environmental impact.”

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