What is the Impact of the UK Social Value Bill?

By Antonia Jeans, Research Assistant at SIAA

On 28 February, the Public Services (Social Value) Bill will go through its third and final reading in the British House of Lords. If no further changes are proposed, the bill will become law before summer 2012. This has potentially major ramifications for anyone who works with or commissions public services.

The bill is a short one. It obliges public sector bodies to consider not only the economic, but also the social and environmental impact of the services they commission. The bill also asks these bodies to think about how they might use the commissioning process to improve these social outcomes.

In essence, the Social Value Bill encourages commissioners to prioritise social outcomes over simple efficiency savings. This is a fairly radical change to the culture and focus of the UK commissioning process. The bill has the added benefit of making it easier for charities and social enterprises, which are already committed to social value, to win public service contracts and compete with private procurement giants.

From the perspective of SIAA’s membership, the bill’s passing into law will be a positive step towards making impact analysis a key feature of public service procurement. It will be an important tool in assessing the likely impact of government-commissioned services and interventions, and in helping those delivering public services to achieve their targets.

The bill’s brevity does call into question some of its more operational aspects. The mainstreaming of social value into the procurement process is to be welcomed, but how will the impact of services be assessed in practice? How rigorous will the required analysis be? And who will undertake these analyses – in-house evaluation and impact analysts within government commissioning teams, or independent consultants?

The bill is an important one and has been rightly welcomed by the British third sector. Yet what its implementation will look like remains unclear; and there is a risk that the social and environmental impact assessments required by the bill will lack substance. We look forward to seeing more details as the bill edges closer to law.

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