Editorial: Social value act is a step forward

The implementation of the act is an important development for charities involved in the delivery of public services, writes Andy Ricketts

Andy Ricketts
Andy Ricketts

When Chris White, the Conservative MP for Warwick and Leamington, first put forward in 2010 his private member's bill that would force public sector commissioners to consider the social value that bidders for contracts would offer, it's fair to say that the sector got pretty excited.

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, said at the time that the bill was "one of the most important pieces of legislation for our sector in a generation".

Fast forward two and a bit years, during which the bill has become the Public Services (Social Value) Act, and expectations have cooled. Holbrook said last week in a statement timed to coincide with the act coming into force that it had the potential to create a more level playing field for social enterprises and charities, but that it needed strengthening. His organisation believes that public bodies should be made to include and account for social value in their commissioning and procurement activities, rather than just consider it.

Another possible sticking point is the minimum value that contracts must be before the legislation kicks in - set at a shade over £113,000 for central government and NHS contracts and just under £174,000 for local government contracts. Will we see some contracts coming in at just under those values?

But for all the dampened enthusiasm, the implementation of the act is an important step forward for charities involved in the delivery of public services. The stride might not be as large as first hoped, but the direction of travel is right and provides something that can be improved upon.

The legislation was supported by all three of the main political parties, which is a vote of confidence from politicians in the sector's ability to deliver public services. The next steps, however, are crucial. The Ministry of Justice is about to embark on a major contracting exercise around the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners, something in which the voluntary sector will no doubt have a major part to play. It will be interesting to see how much effect White's bill will have on the end result.

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