Frequently asked questions about Social Value

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What is Social Value

Social Value means enriched lives and a fairer society for all and demonstrates social, economic or environmental benefit. It involves looking beyond the price of each individual contract and instead looking at the collective benefit to a community. These are communities with strong financial, physical and natural resources and strong connections between people.

Government believes that social value flows from thriving communities. These are communities with strong financial, physical and natural resources and strong connections between people. This includes public funding, private investment, buildings and other spaces for communities to use. It also includes trust, goodwill and the organisations and partnerships that bring people together. Civil Society refers to all individuals and organisations when undertaking activities with the primary purpose of delivering social value independent of state control. View the Civil Society Strategy on the GOV.UK website.

What is the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012?

The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 came into effect in January 2013 and requires all public bodies in England and Wales to consider at the pre-procurement stage:

"How what is proposed to be procured might improve the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the relevant area", and

"How in conducting the process of procurement it might act with a view to securing that improvement".

Why is social value important to us?

One of the purposes of the public sector, and a duty for some public bodies, is to achieve best value, or in other words continuous improvement in economy, efficiency and effectiveness. Social value offers us a way to understand and generate real value for money. So you need to know how much social value you are getting for what you spend and, in decommissioning or redesigning services to cut costs, you need to be aware of effects on social value.

How can we secure more social value?

There are many ways in which more social value can be secured. A great starting point is to understand the outcomes desired by communities and prioritising them according to their relative importance. When activities are being delivered, checking what the social value of the solution actually is can help to inform future commissioning.

When should we start thinking about social value?

Start now. Understanding social value and acting early to secure more of it will require

  • better systems to understand and prioritise desired outcomes together with communities,
  • the involvement of communities and suppliers in developing solutions and a broader assessment of value in options appraisal and
  • changes to delivery mechanisms (whether staff roles or contracts for example).
  • encouraging potential providers to think about the social value they may be creating for different groups through existing solutions and how they can measure and value it.

Can social value be quantified?

It can but there are three questions that need answering.

  • What are the relevant and most significant outcomes for those affected?
  • How are these measured?
  • How important are they to those that experienced them?

Outcomes can be measured and weightings can be given to the quantities of outcomes to express social value.

When should social value be measured?

Social value may be created during delivery of a service, may persist after the service has stopped and the most significant social value may occur after the service has been provided. Contract management and information on when outcomes occur and how long they last will be critical for ensuring the social value is actually created and understood.

How can we embed practices to secure more social value in commissioning?

In order to embed an approach to maximising social value in commissioning you will need to further build on skills in a wide range of existing functions. For example listening to and asking open questions of a wide range of different people, collecting this data and identifying patterns and analysing relationships between activities and outcomes, and involving people in generating options.

What practical difference can social value make?

Public bodies can use social value to deliver benefits to the wider community, such as reduced unemployment, sustainable economic growth, greener neighbourhoods, and safer communities. When it is integrated in the procurement and commissioning processes, social value is instrumental in obtaining practical benefits which may otherwise have been difficult to achieve.

What support is available to providers/suppliers?

Most suppliers may already be delivering a certain level of social value without realising it, such as through their CSR commitments, but may also be at different stages of their social value journey. Supplier engagement may be voluntary or part of a contract, and the kind of support available is determined by the type of engagement. At Surrey County Council, there are different ways to facilitate and support supplier engagement in social value:

  • Supply to Surrey is an initiative to support the relationship between buyers and suppliers in the county, and is where local contract opportunities and guidance on the tendering process are published.
  • Supplier engagement events or workshops are held where questions are invited and encouraged, and which coincide with the timing of the commissioning and procurement process.
  • The commissioning authority having a clear social value policy where "asks" are relevant and proportionate to the contract, where expectations from suppliers are clearly communicated.

Who determines what social value to create?

The National Social Value Measurement Framework ("National TOMs") is a method of measuring and reporting social value to a consistent standard, based on national averages as set out in the central government's The Green Book, HM Treasury data, the Office of National Statistics and the Unit Cost Database. Localised proxy values based on the geographic location of social value delivery is also taken into consideration.

At Surrey County Council, the Social Value Policy requires that social value "asks" should directly contribute to one or more of our six priority areas. This means that social value we expect to generate is based what our communities and residents view as important to them based on what they tell us.

Do social value weightings vary according to sector/industry?

Social value weightings depend on the size and scope of the contract. Usually, higher weightings are given to construction and infrastructure contracts, and lower weightings to professional services.

For shorter-term contracts and contracts of lower value, how can suppliers contribute meaningful social value?

Contracts of lower value and those with shorter time-frames may wish to look at "quick wins" that can be easily delivered. For example, giving donations in cash or kind, visiting and delivering talks at local schools, or offering a service would still enable social value to be achieved.