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“Social Value Imperatives” are conditions of qualification to participate in the provision of public services for public benefit. They emphasise partnership over transaction. They shape the social-ecosystem. They deliver purpose.

The essential purpose of Public Services is “Social Value”, or “Public Value” – as we’ve described in the Five Correctives, this is central to professional commissioning not an additional consideration.

The question is not “how can a service be most economically acquired and what added value element may be requested.” It is “how, maximising and utilising available resources, can the need be optimally met, for all those with the need, to the highest possible quality, with consistency, sustainability, development, improvement, integration and (for social as opposed to routine needs), prevention, reduction and ultimate elimination.”

Social Value is the core, complex discipline of commissioning. The concept risks being conflated with the commercially-based idea of incidental “added value.” That idea is in itself progressive, but is limited and potentially limiting in the public service domain. Added value too easily reduces to a monetisation checklist. True Social Value is the value to people and communities beyond what a balance sheet presents.

  • For example, the value of free state education is way beyond the notional per-pupil cost to the state.
  • Equally, the value provided by a good supplier of public services is way beyond the cost of the service, with an added value element to the specification.


A well conceived and seriously applied set of social value imperatives will pre-qualify suppliers for public sector service provision by requiring through specific demands and analytical assessment of supplier responses to those demands, that each supplier has:

  1. dedication, as an organisation, to the PURPOSE of the service, such that would tend to maximise service delivery and quality (distinguished from profit-driven motivation, that would tend to limit service cost to increase profit margin);
  2. proven CAPABILITY and CAPACITY in relevant service delivery and quality, or an impressive, credible business plan equivalent to such a track-record (distinguished from unsubstantiated claims);
  3. HIGH QUALITY STANDARDS by professed commitment and actual implementation (distinguished from standard statements not matched in practice);
  4. individual leaders and service providers exhibiting and recruited on the basis of caring PERSONAL COMMITMENT and DEDICATION to their organisation’s and the service’s purposes (distinguished from functional leadership and minimum cost recruitment);
  5. KNOWLEDGE of the needs in respect of which, and ENGAGEMENT with the community for which the service is provided, or an impressive, credible engagement plan to acquire such knowledge and establish such engagement (distinguished from the application of standard assumptions);
  6. a commitment to CO-OPERATION and COLLABORATION with the commissioner and all other organisations with roles in relation to the service area (distinguished from the promotion of narrow, institutional self-interest);
  7. a commitment to TRANSPARENCY, so the relationship between resources, costs and reasonable surplus/profit is apparent and a basis of service planning (distinguished from tolerating veiled service cost minimisation, exaggeration in service delivery and extractive profit);
  8. a PROGRESSIVE METHODOLOGY focused on community consultation, understanding and adapting to meet real needs, continuous improvement and innovation (distinguished from minimal contract compliance);
  9. a commitment to GENERAL SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY, maximising broader public policy social value priorities, as far as service definition and resources allow (distinguished from a business approach not responsive to social value and social impact principles);
  10. CREDIBILITY in the demonstration of its inherent and continuing commitment to and application of such Social Value Imperatives (distinguished from skilled and/or well-resourced, but superficial, marketing presentations).

Professional, purpose-driven, collaborative, engaged and public value-facilitating commissioning is multi-dimensional and much more difficult than generating standardised invitation to tender formats. It is both less certain and more thoughtful, responsible and dutiful, because it is seeking to address real need, not routinely to apply a systemised process, remote from real need. The concept of Social Value Imperatives can generally re-focus public service commissioning and may usefully re-define existing limited notions of social value.


When Oldham Council published its Open Invitation to Tender for the Provision of an Innovation Partnership to Co-Design and Deliver a Social Prescribing Network (read our case study here), it included the following summary of its Social Value Imperatives:

As a Co-operative Council we are committed to acting in a socially responsible way and to influencing others with whom we work to do the same. In accordance with the Social Value Act 2012 we must consider social value in all our decisions; about how we capitalise on social value delivered to residents through our partnerships, contracts and supply chain and in addition to ensure that the organisations we choose to work with have the potential to make a major contribution to improving the lives of our residents.
It is increasingly important to secure the maximum possible value from every pound of public money that we spend. This means taking into account the cost of each contract, but it also encompasses a broader evaluation of the value of each contract – including the wider social, economic and environmental outcomes each contract can deliver into Oldham and for the good of its residents.
Some of the social value foundations we would expect our suppliers to underpin:

Oldham’s Open Invitation to Tender for its Innovation Partnership

The document went on to summarise the imperatives:

  • Building capacity and sustainability of the VCFSE e.g. supporting their growth in skills and capability, drawing in or contributing to new funding, supporting or enhancing their service delivery
  • Promoting employment and economic sustainability by actively facilitating skills development and progression both within the organisation and through suppliers / contractors
  • Providing access to local jobs and employment opportunities for Oldham residents
  • Promoting environmental sustainability by helping to build the low carbon and environmental business sector in Oldham
  • Actively seeking community participation and engagement in the procurement, commissioning and delivery aspects by enabling and equipping communities and individuals with the skills and resources to play an active role in service co-design, decision making and delivery
  • Making a positive contribution towards Oldham’s ambitions for health outcomes, healthy homes, green spaces and local amenities
  • Ensuring continuous improvement in the delivery of services and compliance with statutory obligations under section 3 Local Government Act 1999

It then linked to Oldham’s Social Value Framework document. The Invitation to Tender included an evaluated question – prospective bidders were required to demonstrate their commitment to supporting the Council in implementing its Social Value principles. A weighting of 15% was given to this question.

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