Social sector organisations need more help in understanding how to benefit from measures in the social value act, according to the umbrella body Social Enterprise UK.
The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 requires central government and NHS commissioners to take into account "economic, social and environmental wellbeing" when seeking to purchase services from suppliers.
A survey by SEUK of 180 commissioners, providers and other stakeholders, released to coincide with the first anniversary of the act coming into force on Friday, shows that commissioners are feeling more confident about the application and use of the act than those who provide services.
Whereas less than a third of commissioning and procurement staff – 15 out of 48 – surveyed felt there was a lack of guidance on the act, more than half of providers – 24 out of 47 – felt they needed more guidance.
The majority of commissioners surveyed – 39 out of 48 – said they had taken steps to use the act, and 37 out of 48 said their organisation had issued tenders using social value criteria. This was higher than SEUK had expected, based on anecdotal evidence.
Ólöf Jónsdóttir, public affairs manager and social value lead at SEUK, said the results of the survey were encouraging but there was still more work to be done on informing social sector providers and raising awareness of the act.
"This is a self-selecting group and we might assume the commissioners represented are supportive of the act," she said. "Anecdotal evidence still tells us there’s a lag in a number of places, where commissioning and procurement staff are not applying the act nearly so well."
She said her main concern was that providers felt that they needed more guidance. "This is not too surprising, given that most of the guidance and support so far has been directed at public bodies," she said. "Social sector bodies have done a good job producing guidance – almost half of providers have heard about the act through these sources.
"There needs to be greater coordination of all the information that exists to help all organisations use the act. We don’t want to see our members losing out to larger private firms that can invest much more money in understanding the act and winning tenders on it."
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said more could be done to give guidance to providers.
"We are very encouraged by the progress of the act and the fact that commissioners are thinking differently about social value, but at the same time we recognise that there is more that can be done," she said.
"We know that confidence among providers is crucial. That is why we run a number of programmes that offer specific support to social enterprises and charities, and we’ll be extending these in the year ahead."
The Cabinet Office will publish a progress report, including next steps on the act, on Friday.