The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has published an online guide to using the social value act.
The guide, published yesterday, is aimed at commissioners, policy-makers and those in operational roles who need to procure services for contracting authorities such as local government.
The Public Services (Social Value) Act was introduced in 2012 and requires commissioners who procure services to consider how the procurement could improve the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of their areas.
Since then, questions have been raised about how effective it has been. A report published by the health think tank the King’s Fund in February said that, although most commissioners had heard of the social value act, their knowledge and use of the legislation in commissioning varied widely.
In a report from March last year, the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities called for the act to be strengthened to require commissioners to "account for" rather than simply consider social value, and Chris White, the former Conservative MP who developed the act, said it should be extended to cover all forms of public spending.
The guide explains when the act applies and how it should be incorporated into the design and specification of tenders. It also gives practical examples of how to implement the act.
But Tony Armstrong, chief executive of the community organisation membership body Locality, said the examples provided within the guide represented "a relatively weak application of the legislation".
He said: "While we welcome the government’s publication of this guidance, social value is too often treated as a tick-box exercise by local authorities and large outsourcing companies alike.
"Commissioners should be thinking about how they can use social value legislation ambitiously and effectively to level the playing field for small local providers, for services that truly transform lives, and retain precious public sector resources in the local community."
Armstrong said social value legislation, when used ambitiously, could transform communities and should be embraced.
Michael Birtwistle, public services manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, welcomed the guide, but said he hoped the government would do more to examine the effectiveness of the act and to support its use.