Government’s social value proposals ‘don’t go far enough’, say charities

11 Jun 2019 News

Fergus Burnett

Charities have raised concerns about the Cabinet Office’s proposals to “level the playing field” for voluntary organisations bidding for central government contracts.

The government’s 12-week consultation closed yesterday on measures that would see the introduction of an “evaluation model” to test whether social value is being adequately incorporated into central government procurement. 

Voluntary organisations have published their responses, with some criticising the government’s proposals for being unambitious.

NCVO, CFG and SCC: ‘Not far enough’

Umbrella bodies NCVO, the Charity Finance Group and the Small Charities Coalition published a joint response to the consultation.

The organisations said that overall the proposals on embedding social value “don’t go nearly far enough to reap its potential benefits”.

They said the government’s proposed evaluation model was “overly prescriptive” and could present barriers to charity bidders, and encouraged the government to consider an outcomes-based approach instead.

And they criticised the consultation for failing to include measures to tackle lack of awareness, access buy-in from senior leaders and prevent shutting down of innovation, as suggested in Lord Young’s 2015 review.

“Although positive, the commitments made in this consultation alone would not go far enough,” they said in their response.

“An approach to commissioning and procurement practice that will genuinely benefit from inclusion of social value will be one that integrates social value as a central part of a contract, not seeing it as an add-on.

“To make the long-term changes that effective implementation of social value has the potential to make, there needs to be a significant culture change across all public bodies commissioning services, not just added expectations on teams of buyers.”

Social Enterprise UK: ‘Raise minimum weighting’

Social Enterprise UK welcomed the government’s “renewed focus” on social value but called for its proposals to go further.

The organisation backed the government’s proposal for central government commissioners to put a minimum weighting on social value in all procurements but it called for this to be raised from 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

It also called for all government departments to publish a “social value budget” each year, which would be a monetary value that displays how much social value has been created through their contracts.

SEUK’s other proposals include:

  • To create a new theme, “social value innovation”, which would encourage bidders to outline a range of outcomes and interventions that could be carried out to increase the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of UK citizens
  • To expand and update the Unit Cost Database to provide all social enterprises and businesses with the opportunity to understand which interventions are most valuable, and provide greater accountability
  • To consult with citizens to find the best interventions to help people and the planet.

It said in its response: “We believe that these proposals taken together will have the effect of strengthening this framework, create better value for the taxpayer and support the development of social enterprises within supply chains.”

UnLtd: ‘Must ensure social value is core consideration’

Unltd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs, called for changes to some of the proposals put forward by the government.

It said the evaluation framework would not “reveal the full picture” of whether social value was being properly considered in procurements.

“Simply comparing bids on such quantitative metrics does not create a level playing field for social entrepreneurs or a better outcome for the people the bid aims to serve,” it said.

“We are calling for assessing bids by using qualitative evidence and more rounded quantitative evidence of social and environmental value.”

It called on the government to raise the minimum weighting from 10 to 20 per cent, but warned that even this “might make it seem as if social value was simply an add-on”.

“If the government is serious about delivering public services with values at their heart, they need to ensure that social value is a core consideration in bids,” it said.

But UnLtd said that “simply implementing the proposed framework is not enough” as large contract structures, burdensome bid requirements and a risk-averse commissioning culture will mean the procurement playing field remains “geared towards the large providers”.

It called for procurement to be made more transparent, efficient and accessible for social entrepreneurs.

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