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“Redefining value must start with a deeper interrogation of the concepts on which much of today’s policy is based”

Mariana Mazzucato, Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London, The Value of Everything 2018


The obvious point about public services is that their whole purpose is the provision of Social Value. Through meeting social needs well, the drain on public economic resources is reduced and the blocked potential of personal economic engagement and collective economic improvement is released.


A good number of local authorities do now have positive Social Value Policies, identifying strategic social and environmental priorities to be incorporated into all procurement, or better, all policy decisions.

However, such policies should have a more fundamental role in relation to public services – to ensure all public services are delivered with inherent Social Value Purpose, with the essential focus on achieving Social Value Impact and with that purpose and focus integrated into the whole approach to the service.

This makes specific, intrinsic Social Value, within public services, distinct from general, additional Social Value in relation to commercial purchasing.

Firstly, a standard Social Value assessment tool, with generalised value scores (such as the Social Value Portal’s “Themes, Outcomes and Measures” or “TOMs”), is not sufficient, in the same way as it may be for commercial purchasing, construction, highways and infrastructure, as it is not meaningfully directed to the essential Social Value of the particular service (without further, specific, detailed professional application)

Secondly, there needs to be a much stronger emphasis on provider propositions, ideas and initiatives, relative to public authority prescriptive policy, requiring consultation, dialogue, collaboration, co-design and interactive professional engagement by commissioners, rather than detached invitation to tender drafting and scoring.

Most fundamentally, Social Value imperative standards and commitments should be absolute pre-requisites for providing (or being licensed to provide) public services. Every prospective provider, as a minimum, should demonstrate:

  • genuine purpose-driven commitment to the Social Value service;
  • a coherent and credible basis for the realisation of intended Social Value impact, through providing the service; and
  • generally required additional social value commitments, in accordance with the general Social Value policy


Public values are defined as:

those providing normative consensus about (1) the rights, benefits, and prerogatives to which citizens should (and should not) be entitled; (2) the obligations of citizens to society, the state and one another; and (3) the principles on which governments and policies should be based.

Bozeman, B. (2007). Public Values and Public Interest: Counterbalancing Economic Individualism. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

“Social Value” is now established as part of public service discourse, but there is a great risk now of the words being used without their substance. That leads to the system adjusting and maintaining the status quo behind a veneer of change, rather than leading to system change.

The system is still based on commercial and market value, with Social Value typically referenced as additional and limited to a notional and ill-defined low percentage value in tender assessments.

This is despite: Social Value being a component in the Duty of Best Value since 1988 and of the Public Procurement “Most Economically Advantageous Tender” basis of award.

The “duty to consider” introduced by the Social Value Act 2012, which is additional, should have been unnecessary.

The proper assessment of value is and always has been the optimal balance of quality, price and Social Value, which requires professional assessment, not a scoring chart.


Social Value can no longer lazily be dismissed as of intangible meaning and difficult to measure. It has mainstream, progressive, economic meaning and endorsement, as articulated by Mariana Mazzucato in “The Value of Everything”:

We can work to ensure all activities…promote the outcomes we want: if the characteristics of an activity…help deliver true value”. “The concept of value must once again find its rightful place at the centre of economic thinking”. “The creation of value is collective…policy can be more active around co-shaping and co-creating markets”.