Don't rush to strengthen social value act, says creator Chris White MP

The Conservative MP for Warwick and Leamington, says the act is 'not fulfilling its potential' but needs more time to be tested and examined

Chris White MP
Chris White MP

The Conservative MP who created the social value act has said there should be no rush for further legislation to strengthen the legislation, despite admitting it is "not fulfilling its potential".

Chris White, the MP for Warwick and Leamington, was speaking to public and third sector delegates at yesterday's Third Sector Commissioning conference, organised by Capita Conferences. White was appointed as the government's first social value ambassador in summer 2013.

The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 was designed to make public contracts more accessible to charities, social enterprises and small businesses by making local authority commissioners consider the potential social value offered by bidders in addition to cost in their procurement processes. It became law in March 2012.

"I do recognise it is not the simplest thing to overturn guidance, governance, processes, best practice that you have worked to for years," he told the event. He said that some evidence pointed to the conclusion that "the act is not fulfilling its potential".

White said that the best way to secure change was through peer learning. Many authorities and charities were developing toolkits and benchmarks for others to learn from, he said.

"Some argue that the act should be given more teeth – my own opinion is that we should not rush into further legislation," he said. More time was needed for the act to be tested and examined. White said that it was "not meant to be an extra burden for councils; it is not meant to be onerous".

John Gillespie, chair of the event, said that relationship-building was the key to improving the access of third sector organisations to public contracts. Gillespie, who is director of Acevo Solutions, a trading subsidiary of the charity leaders group that provides consultancy services, said: "I think the relationship-building both between the voluntary sector and councils, and  within the voluntary sector, is where the hard work is."

Other speakers agreed. Henry Kippin, executive director of the consultancy Collaborate, said that "relationships across the sectors are pretty dysfunctional", and Anne Butler, assistant director of adult social care commissioning at Surrey County Council, said: "We don't talk to people only when we've got a tendering process; it's about an ongoing dialogue."

Introducing a later session, Gillespie said he had been working in the tri-borough area of London – the City of Westminster and the boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham – to look at social investment in the third sector. "We have developed a commission to look at what opportunity is presented by social investment in the sector – what tangible opportunities this presents," he said. The commission was likely to present its findings in August, he told the conference.

Hazel Summers, head of strategic commissioning at Manchester City Council, said that its role in commissioning a £1.2m social impact bond "had been quite a difficult process". The council's SIB, funding foster placements through charity Action for Children, was announced earlier this month after two years of negotiations, she said.

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