Our mission at Social Investment Business is to provide the right finance and support to social enterprises and charities to help them make a bigger positive difference.
While our work focuses on the direct provision of patient, flexible finance and programmes of tailored support, we also recognise that there is a crucial third element to achieving sustained success; customers.
In short, trading charities and social enterprises often need to be paid for their products and services in order to sustain their model and achieve their aims.
For many in civil society, that customer is government, be it a local authority, a clinical commissioning group or central government itself. Which is why I was so pleased to work with Chris White and other colleagues in Parliament to help bring the Social Value Act into law in 2013.
The Act has significant potential to positively change the behaviour of government as a customer, as a commissioner and buyer of goods and services - goods and services which, even in austere times, still amount to hundreds of billions worth of spending.
Smarter procurement that includes social and economic impact could make a massive difference, especially in our most challenged areas. Excellent work by Social Enterprise UK and others has drawn attention to pockets of good practice, but also to the slow pace of adoption and of realising the full potential of the Act across government.
My strong belief is that more can and should be done, and there has never been a more important time to do so. This was why I chaired a working group on the UK National Advisory Board (NAB) for Impact Investment’s taskforce on placing purpose at the heart of procurement. The findings of our work can be read in the overall report The Rise of Impact.
We made a series of recommendations, the main one of which was that central and local governments should embed social value in every tender decision, with a minimum weighting of 20%.
In tandem with government having to account for social value, rather than 'consider' it, this would go a long way to shifting practice in the right direction. At Social Investment Business, we repeat these recommendations in our response to the Civil Society Strategy consultation today.
Since the NAB report was released towards the end of last year, I have been encouraged by some progress: there is excellent work going on in Greater Manchester and in the West Midlands under the leadership of the Elected Mayors and the recent support for the Act from Simon Stevens in the NHS is welcome.
But in the shadow of Carillion and at a time when government is seeking to build a more inclusive economy, strengthening and extending the Act should be a key priority not only in its forthcoming Civil Society Strategy, but across the delivery of our public services.