The UK Social Value Act: Let’s see the small print first

The passage of the Public Services (Social Value) Bill – now the Social Value Act – last week is potentially good news for charities and social enterprises in the UK . By demanding that government commissioners consider the social and environmental value of the services they outsource, the hope is that contracts and funding will flow more easily to organisations which would otherwise be overlooked.

However, as SIAA’s Research Assistant Antonia noted in her blog a few weeks ago, it remains to be seen exactly how the laudable aims of the Bill will be put into practice. The devil – as ever – will be in the detail.

Specifically, who will be responsible for the evaluation? Will it take place at commissioning level, or will the organisations bidding for public service contracts be required to demonstrate social value? Most importantly, what evidence of ‘social value’ will be required? Set the bar too high and it may well exclude smaller charities and social enterprises who are not able to conduct an SROI type evaluation.

Drawing on existing knowledge of social impact assessment will be crucial if this bill is to work properly. What many people new to social impact don’t realise is that there is already extensive work out there that explains how to carry it out and determine the value. Through our website, we’re working to create a section to draw together and collate existing resources. We’ve also kicked off a working group that aims to map the existing principles on social impact and where they overlap.

We think this is the type of work which will help further the discussion around what is proportional and relevant to specific sector needs in terms of social value. This will be especially important if the proliferation of impact tools and techniques foreseen by some , including SIAA founding member Jenni Inglis, does indeed take place.

For the Bill to deliver on its promise, government commissioners will have to take the spirit of it to heart. This broader cultural change in commissioning is fundamental to everything else which the Bill seeks to achieve. We certainly hope it works and that as a result charities and organisation are judged not just on the money they save but on the social impact they deliver.

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