Improvements to commissioning are key to making social value legislation work, says Nick Hurd

Civil society minister tells Conservative Party conference fringe meeting that the Public Services (Social Value) Act is part of a dedicated effort to encourage social innovation

Nick Hurd
Nick Hurd

Supporting public sector commissioners is the key to creating a culture in which social value legislation can flourish, delegates at the Conservative Party conference have heard.

Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, made the claim at a fringe meeting about innovation in public services through social value organised by the local infrastructure body Navca and the think tank ResPublica.

The Public Services (Social Value) Act, introduced in a private member's bill by the Conservative MP Chris White, became law in March and places a duty on public bodies in England and Wales "to have regard to economic, social and environmental wellbeing in connection with public services contracts".

Hurd said the act represented an almost unique window of opportunity to tackle social problems and improve the delivery of public services, but that changes would not happen overnight.

"Chris White’s bill was not set in isolation; it is part of a dedicated effort to try to encourage more genuine social innovation across the commissioning landscape," he said.

Hurd told delegates that the government wanted to encourage "intelligent commissioning" through a range of measures including the government’s new commissioning academy and promoting the use of social investment.

"We are keen to accelerate the development of social impact bonds to find out more about their ability to help commissioners really try to test," he said.

He talked about the planned £20m "outcomes fund", which the Cabinet Office plans to use to make it easier for public bodies to issue payment-by-results contracts and social impact bonds for charities.

"That is why we’re announcing a new fund specifically to do that called the outcomes fund, to which we’re committing at least £20m," he told delegates.

Joe Irvin, chief executive of Navca, supported Hurd’s comments about commissioners but said that it was just as important for the voluntary sector to ensure it was in a position to communicate the worth of social value.

This might mean organisations forming consortia in order to draw together expertise, he said.

"We do need intelligent commissioners, but we have got to be intelligent providers," he said. "We have got to prove our worth and work with commissioners in a sensible way to make it all happen."

Hurd also told delegates at a fringe event organised by the Scout Association that charities and private companies needed to work more closely together to tackle social problems.

He said the government had a role as a "convener" to help change the wariness between private and voluntary sector organisations.

Hurd told Third Sector that there was "residual tension" between "those who get up in the morning to make profit and those who get up to change the world".

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