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Guest Blog: Social Value

Friday, June 10, 2016

Public services increasingly need to deliver more value for less money. This imperative has led to a transformation agenda for public services of moving towards a more preventative approach to addressing the social, health and wellbeing needs of people and recognising that collaboration with other service providers can lead to more effective approach.  Unpinning all of this is that sustainable people-focused public services are the key to promoting wellbeing.

However, in considering sustainable development, financial and environmental aspects have been the main focus, whereas the social aspect has been less recognised and therefore not so well developed.

The Social Value Act 2012 enshrines the principle of ensuring local needs are addressed and money spent on public services does deliver maximum value. It provides specific guidance and emphasises the importance of considering social value well before the commissioning and procurement processes start, because that can help inform and shape the purpose of the services needed and what the service should look like.

So how does this relate to the role of the VCS? The Sector contributes to all aspects of a locality’s social and economic fabric, particularly relating to the needs of those more disadvantaged or vulnerable in society. Through the generation of social business and employment and training opportunities; supporting community cohesion and encouraging community action and dialogue through community development work; enhancing green spaces, local food production, recycling/upcycling using local skills and knowledge, and providing practical services to meet health and social care needs.  Therefore, the sector needs to be part of any process that looks at design and delivery of services that meets the transformation agenda of public services.

However, this has not been easy. The pressure of cuts to local public sector agencies and the economic recession has meant that some decisions have been taken before sufficient consideration has been given to meeting the requirements of Social Value and how the VCS can engage with processes to support the design and delivery of future services.

For some public sector agencies changing the mindset and approach of health and social care commissioners and procurement managers has been part of overall organisational cultural change, where social value has been recognised and imbedded at leadership level.  Recognising and building upon local assets; encouraging a collaborative whole system approach and nuturing community resilience and mutual aid has  been incorporated into the development of strategic and organisational plans such as the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment Plan, Sustainable Management Plan and locality plans.

Being more creative and innovative in contracting arrangements and recognising the added social value that a VCO as service providers can bring to addressing the health and social care needs of a community.  However, this means working with the VCS at early stages of planning to build a shared outcomes framework that incorporates social value principles right from the beginning.

Although some of the larger and major VSO are already investing and implementing SROI measurement and evaluation tools into the way they develop their services and demonstrate social value; many small to medium sized organisations do not necessarily have the capacity nor the desire. But those that are interested can’t find the kind of tools that are feasible or relevant to their size and capacity.

It will require more work and investment by funders and commissioners in training and practical support and guidance as well as encouragement and incentivisation to help these organisations to be able to demonstrate social value in a meaningful way for themselves as well as for others.