In March Jacob Rees-Mogg hinted to the Daily Telegraph that changes to the role social value plays in procurement were on his radar. But while the article lacked any direct quotations from the minister, it is said his concerns revolve around providing greater value-for-money to the taxpayer, reducing the pressure on ethical procurement and reducing perceived disadvantages to smaller suppliers.
I don’t think it’s an overreaction to worry when a cabinet minister throws out a comment such as this. However, Rees-Mogg is known for championing the reduction of red tape, so it’s on brand for him to consider whether any of the current social value requirements provide impediments to business efficiency. But I truly believe we can rule out its diminished role in procurement, given that social value is one of the chosen vehicles through which the government is building its prominent levelling-up agenda.
Instead let’s review what Rees-Mogg might actually have been trying to get to: how might greater taxpayer value-for-money be realised? How might we prevent any disadvantage to smaller suppliers?
A common concern we hear from facilities management companies and others contracting to the government is that many Local Authority contracts demand social value be reported via a system that carries a costly licence fee. Suppliers pay exorbitant amounts to simply report their social value impact back to the contracting authority. This is madness! Inevitably suppliers will have to build these costs into their tender submissions, which as Rees-Mogg suggests, is not good value for taxpayers’ money.
If the Conservative party is known for anything, it’s about promoting competition in the marketplace and Rees-Mogg is not wrong when he suggests we should loosen the grip on this outdated framework. Instead, suppliers should be empowered to choose their own tools for measuring and reporting social value based on the needs of their business and without the mandatory “pay to report” model. Then we will see better value provided for the public money spent, but also, we will see the impact of social value initiatives strengthen up and down the country which is an efficiency Rees-Mogg can get behind.