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The Social Value Act – An opportunity and a challenge

by John Hannen, Policy & Partnerships Manager, GMCVO

We’ve seen many in the sector welcome the introduction of the recent Social Value Act on the basis that this groundbreaking piece of legislation will open up new opportunities in public service delivery for smaller voluntary organisations. In this post I’ll look at the challenges we’ll face in actually realising this but also to place the social value delivered by public sector commissioning in context.

Firstly it might be useful to look at what the Social Value Act actually does. It has been described by many commentators as a “nudge” act. Public sector commissioners can already seek to purchase social value through commissioning but due to this Act, now they will all have to consider how their purchasing mechanisms might deliver social value. The act of consideration alone however will not be enough and there is always the possibility that a commissioner will still be able to take a limited “tick-box” approach to service commissioning. Bad commissioning will still be bad commissioning whatever the legislative framework. In order to make social value meaningful, it will be important to ensure that there is a strong leadership push to deliver social value within the public sector. In many ways the job is only half done and to really see through a change, we need to lobby and persuade councillors, GPs, PCCs to take a view on social value in their organisations and set a clear direction for commissioning. We have been presented with a framework to achieve social value but we still have a challenge to ensure commissioners see it as a high enough priority to properly deliver it.

However, even with strong political commitment locally there are still significant challenges. In his recent post on this blog, Mike Wild of MACC discussed the “Graph of Doom” and the future fiscal challenges local councils face. Demand on services is rapidly increasing, as the population ages whilst health inequalities grow, yet many public bodies face cuts for the next five years at least. By 2019, the LGA expect there to be a £16.5bn black hole in local government finances. This will present two significant challenges to the delivery of social value: firstly that services will be withdrawn from many areas of existing delivery, secondly that pressures on costs will become more of a priority.

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