News and Comment

What can providers do to take advantage of the Public Services (Social Value) Act?

Wednesday 30 October 2013


Since the end of January 2013 The Public Services (Social Value) Act has come into force requiring all public bodies in England and some in Wales are required to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of local areas. Recently, I was invited to speak at Help the Hospices Annual Conference on how service providers may be able to use the Act to their advantage.

Responsibility for change

While the Act is intended, in part, to give voluntary and community sector organisations more opportunities to secure public services contracts; there are a number of barriers that need to be acknowledged and addressed. There are real risks that the status quo will be maintained unless challenged explicitly. For example, Chris White MP (the person who first proposed the idea of such an Act as a Private Member Bill) asserted that:

“The Act…relies on civil society organisations to take the initiative and use the potential of the Act to change the way we commission services”

The responsibility for bringing about desired changes may fall squarely on the shoulders of voluntary and community sector organisations.”

So what providers can do?

Learn from others

There is a growing body of literature on what commissioners and providers have been doing to translate the vision underpinning the Act into reality. Organisations should learn from the experiences of others; perhaps getting in touch with the relevant organisations for further conversations.


The Act encourages organisations to develop clear and multi-pronged approaches to engagement, including:

  • Clarifying your approach towards partnerships and consortia:

–        Are you levering support from your umbrella support body?

–        In partnerships and consortia, which organisation leads on different types of contracts?

–        How do you work with the ‘big players’ (which can be private sector organisations as well as national charities)?

  • Clarifying your understanding of what commissioners ‘value’:

–        What are they looking for, and what may persuade them?

–        What is your strategy for engaging with them?

  • Clarifying your ‘unique selling point’ to partners and commissioners:

–        What is it about your organisation and what you do that is different, ‘over and above’, etc.

  • Clarifying how you consult and engage with your service users and stakeholders:

–        How can you hear effectively from different sub-groups?

–        What do they value?

Definitional and measurement issues

Define social value in a way that:

  • Involves your service users and stakeholders
  • Makes it amenable to measurement (e.g. ‘wellbeing’ is easy to claim, but difficult to measure. What does ‘wellbeing’ look like in your specific case? Is it about ‘reduced anxiety’, or ‘enhanced sense of control’, or ‘improved mental health’, etc?)
  • May be linked to key national and local drivers and priorities (e.g. a health commissioner may find your social values easier to grasp if organised around Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention (QIPP) headings).
  • Resists measurement ‘orthodoxies’. For example, Social Return on Investment (SROI) may be helpful, but is not the only way through which you can demonstrate social value.


Learn how to tell your impact and value story more effectively, and in a way that makes sense to those whom you are trying to convince. There are a number of tools that can help you do so systematically, and there are accepted ‘key ingredients’ that should go into any persuasive narrative of impact and value.

While it is easy to point out flaws in the legislation and the vagueness of implementation, the Public Services (Social Value) Act nonetheless represents a new lever that may be used. Think of it as a door. If you push at it, it may or may not open; and you may or may not find a receptive audience on the other side. However, if you don’t push at it, it will definitely remain shut.