Leading lights from the worlds of business, social enterprise and the public sector backed the idea at a Parliamentary roundtable on Social Value organised by former cabinet minister Hazel Blears and environmental solutions provider Veolia Environnement.
Salford and Eccles MP Ms Blears was among high profile delegates at the event including Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Chuka Umunna, Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Chi Onwurah and Kevin Hurst, of Veolia.
The event was aimed at boosting the benefits being delivered to local communities on the back of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012.
The Act requires the likes of councils, schools and the NHS to consider the economic, social and environmental benefits to residents when choosing service providers – rather than simply picking the organisation willing to do the job for the least amount of money.
But there is a lack of guidance for either commissioners or the social enterprises and companies competing for contracts on how best to create ‘Social Value’ by boosting local communities - and then on how to measure these benefits.
Ms Blears, who joined forces with Veolia to start putting that right by organising the Westminster roundtable, said: “If we can encourage commissioners to think beyond their immediate bottom-line this will stimulate innovation among would-be service providers.
“Many social enterprises, and some businesses, are already thinking outside the box and delivering services in a way which really benefits local people, but we want going that extra mile to become the norm.
“At a time of real pressure on budgets, councils and other public sector organisations need to be confident that this will save money in the long-run.
“That is why it is important that we get in place a framework so they can easily see what works and what does not when it comes to deciding who should deliver a particular service.
“This will also give organisations which deliver services a better idea of what they need to do to win these contracts and help the people who matter most, the public.
“As buzz words go, it might not be the sexiest, but the idea of Social Value is gaining real momentum – and when put into practice properly it is a truly dynamic concept that can benefit everyone.”
Kevin Hurst, Marketing and Communication Director for Veolia Environnement, said: "When a company like Veolia tenders for work with a local authority the value they provide goes further than just the services they are tendering for.
“To truly understand the support a big business can offer to a local authority we've worked closely with our partner Southwark Council to assess the full impact we have from our services.
“Our methodology hasn't just opened our eyes to the value we offer it has also shown that we can help support all the local authorities’ goals from lowering crime rates to supporting local social enterprise."
Also addressing the audience were Peter Holbrooke of Social Enterprise UK, Coun Lib Peck, leader of Lambeth Council and Juliet Silvester of Fujitsu.
There was agreement that a consistent framework for measuring social value needed to be developed, including a range of indicators by which social impact can be measured: e.g. number of people helped into work, reductions in re-offending, etc.
Delegates agreed to call upon the Government to create a Cross Party Social Value Task Force to develop the methodology.
The task force would also be encouraged to share best practice case studies and develop detailed guidance for commissioners and service providers which would also be included in an online portal.
It will be asked to look at how the act can be extended to cover goods, development and disposal of assets, as well as services – meaning it could in future apply to infrastructure and building projects.
While some organisations have so far been using the Social Return on Investment toolkit (http://www.thesroinetwork.org/) some argue that this masks the lack of understanding of social value assessments.
A report considered by delegates said that measuring social value should be an on-going process rather than a one-off exercise and should not become a ‘tick box’ exercise.
The Public Services (Social Value) Act is already encouraging public sector organisations to secure maximum benefit for local communities when they award contracts.
For instance, Wakefield Council secured extra social value by employing local social enterprise Fresh Pastures when it wanted a new milk supplier for schools.
As well as delivering the milk, staff provided lessons on healthy living for pupils and employed the long-term unemployed and disabled people.
Ms Blears, a leading supporter of the Act, said that spending a little extra to improve life for residents often meant people would have less reason to call upon the public purse in the long-run, ensuring significant savings.
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