The UK has a steep hill to climb to recover from the Covid pandemic. Social value is core to how we will implement this recovery and the Social Value Act is central to our government’s approach.
Even with its strengthening addition through a recent Procurement Policy Note 06/20 – taking account of social value in the award of central government contracts (PPN06/20), perhaps we’re still at risk of sticking with an output focus that isn’t capturing the changes in people’s lives that matter and might not most efficiently help us through this recovery.
The Social Value Act is from 2012, but its implementation has been varied – although this is changing. The PPN06/20 has announced a new social value model that will be mandatory for all central government procurement.
In its aspiration to give the Social Value Act more teeth, this model mandates a minimum of 10 per cent of contract weighting to social value and introduces key themes to help; for example, diversify supply chain, include VCSE organisations, and support COVID-19 recovery. With a clear emphasis on qualitative evaluation and “policy outcomes” linking to government priorities, it is in a good place to do so.
But let’s pause and look at what is actually an outcome? As too often misunderstood, it is not simply about “counting apprenticeships”, outcomes are about the change that person experienced as a result of their apprenticeship (money, increase or decrease in wellbeing, etc.). Outcomes help us better answer the question: What difference did that make? Through the process of obtaining that information, we are likely to better understand what that person or stakeholder group thinks about our intervention and what we can do better to meet their needs or maximise social value.
What 2020 has shown us is that priorities change. In the government’s new social value model this is reflected with a theme around Covid-19 recovery. But is this really preparing us to respond to the fast-changing reality and create the interventions we need?
I’d argue that continuous and meaningful consultation will be more crucial than ever to respond to urgent priorities and to understand how people are being affected, both positively and negatively. This will enable us to respond to the themes and policy outcomes in the new model.
To really understand the views and the outcomes that matter most to people is what will help us rebuild effectively – not the sole counting of outputs.