Local authorities and housing associations urged to adopt social value policies

A report from Social Enterprise UK, led by Peter Holbrook, says that a third of these organisations do not consider social value across all the services they buy

Work from the social enterprise Evolve, supported by Circle Housing, a housing association
Work from the social enterprise Evolve, supported by Circle Housing, a housing association

Local authorities and housing associations must adopt written policies on social value and each nominate a single person to lead it, according to a report from Social Enterprise UK.

The Public Services (Social Value) Act came into force almost 18 months ago. It places a requirement on public bodies in England and Wales, including local authorities and housing associations, to take into consideration wider social, economic and environmental benefits, and not just cost, when awarding contracts.

But SEUK’s report Communities Count: The Four Steps to Unlocking Social Value, published today, says that a third of local authorities and housing associations do not consider social value across all of the services they buy.

The report, based on 200 telephone interviews with senior figures in local authorities and housing associations, says that only 37 per cent have a defined social value policy, although almost two-thirds (60 per cent) of respondents have a nominated lead in their organisation for social value.

According to the report, more than a third (37 per cent) of respondents reported difficulty in defining social value and more than half (54 per cent) reported measurement of social value as the main barrier to its implementation.

The report, commissioned by the construction company Wates Group, the accountancy practice PwC, the Chartered Institute of Housing and the housing association the Orbit Group, surveyed local authorities and housing associations because they are among the biggest purchasers of public services from social enterprises and other providers in local communities.

The survey also found growing awareness among local authorities and housing associations of the benefits of commissioning services based on social value. The report says that 71 per cent of those surveyed felt that delivering social value had led to better service delivery, 52 per cent said it had resulted in cost savings and 78 said it had led to better community relations.

The report concludes that there are four steps to unlocking social value: defining the vision; integrating the vision across the business; forming strong cross-sector partnerships; and measuring the difference social value makes.

The report’s authors make five recommendations. They say that local authorities and housing associations should adopt written policies and nominated leads for social value, and should view social value as a route to innovation and cost savings, not just as the creation of positive social outcomes and not simply to comply with the act.

The report says that they should also integrate and consider social value across all services; work with, buy from, start and support social enterprises to help deliver social value; and measure the social value being created against a clear sense of what is trying to be achieved.

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, said in a statement: "The findings in this report are very good news and clearly demonstrate that integrating social value can bring a wide range of benefits to local authorities and housing associations, and to the communities in which they operate. It shows social value can be viewed as a strategy for innovation and cost savings, not just as the creation of positive social outcomes or, at worse, compliance with the act."

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