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Social Value: public service system tweak or transformation

Date: 07.10.21 |Categories: Featured |Tags:

Ahead of our Social Value Webinar on 19th October, we are pleased to share some of the thoughts of Julian Blake, Partner at Stone King LLP.

Social Value is established public service terminology, which is important and progressive. Largely in response to the success of the 2012 Social Value Act, in raising awareness of the Social Value concept, all local authorities now have Social Value policies and Social Value is officially declared a proper factor in central government procurement. But this is also a dangerous moment for Social Value.

Social Value has always been the heart of the public benefit sector and is now infiltrating the 40 year hegemony of profit-driven, market competition, challenging the New Public Management approach to public services and beyond that proposing purposeful mission as a core basis of mainstream business success. But socio-economic ideologies and orthodoxies are deeply entrenched and naturally adapt to absorb, rather than embrace, change.

That raises a major issue about the meaning of Social Value. In the public and private sectors it has mainly come to mean the adaptive idea of an added value focus. This follows the example where a new public building is to be constructed and the developer must commit to a certain number of apprentices, thereby adding Social Value relating to local employment needs. That is manifestly positive. However thinking of Social Value only as added value is limiting. If a public service contract is, for example, for social care, there is inherent, integral Social Value in successfully delivering the essential purpose.

In that sense, rather than the celebration of public service procurement assessments typically including a 10% added Social Value element, a public service contract is 100% about Social Value and the other assessment elements of quality and price must combine in an overall assessment of the imperative, optimal Social Value that may be realised with available public sector resources.

This version of Social Value, at a micro level, equates to Professor Mariana Mazzucato’s macro-economic thesis, in “The Value of Everything”, that public policy should be directed, not by GDP, but by “Public Value”, through optimally applying available resources to the critical policy requirements, for example in meeting the climate and social care crises.

At the macro level there is much discussion of adapted, or post capitalism. In public services there is much discussion about community empowerment and partnership. Public and Social Value are central to these discussions. To the extent the added value aspect of Social Value becomes the embedded definition, the transformative potential of Social Value will not be realised and best practice Social Value will continue to succeed despite, not because of, the prevailing system.