The future of social procurement

The future of social procurement

Posted 19th March 2021

This article was written by Interim CEO of Social Value UK, Catherine Manning.

This month Supply Change held their first Social Procurement Festival, a great day bringing together suppliers and buyers with a shared vision of increasing their social value to make connections, and hear from leaders across public, private and civil society about how they are maximizing social value through procurement. 

This blog is a few reflections on social value and procurement, some of the movements taking place here in the UK, and ‘what next’ if we are serious about driving increased social value through our procurement spend.

Increase in need

The importance of social value in procurement is becoming more obvious by the day.  In procurement Social Value is about making sure that what we buy is creating benefits for people, stakeholders and society as a whole.  In the context of the pandemic, there is a huge increase of need both socially and environmentally, as well as growing recognition of the embedded structural inequalities we need to tackle. If we are honest, we can see that inequality is getting worse not better and there is a critical need here in the UK.  Trust is needed on all sides to develop the collaboration necessary to address these, and there is increasing pressures for organisations on all sides to respond to these growing needs.

Huge opportunity, big risk

The opportunity is huge – £290billion per year in public sector procurement.  But, so therefore is the risk.   A risk if not considering social value, but also a risk in doing so. As social value weighting in contracts shifts with greater weight on the social value element, the importance of confidence in claims and management of contracts is increasing – this doesn’t just mean robustness of metrics, but that these are actually reflective of people’s lives and experiences – are we checking numbers or checking standards of practice and process? Social value is about people’s lives, changes to people’s lives, and making those changes better, our social value practice should be about accountability for that change to those affected. 

Actions to date

There have been many steps over the last decade bringing us towards embedding social value into procurement. Some (not all) captured here…

Standards of practice matter

This could all indicate a direction of travel, and see change for how we do procurement, and therefore what goods, services and works get resources and what activities take place that affect all of our lives.  But the devil is in the detail.  Practice, implementation and standards matter.  There has been a lot of development of practice with use of shared measurement frameworks such as the National TOMs , or more bespoke practice development through calculators such as Social Value Engine, Social Profit Calculator, the long established HACT Social Value Bank , and more recent developments such as the CLES and Making Spend Matter ‘Spend Analysis Tool’.

There are also movements in the development of overarching standards of sustainability accounting, Sustainability Accounting Standards, looking at the financial impacts of sustainability concerns, have been around for a while, as have other ESG frameworks (CDP, CDSB, GRI, IIRC and SASB).  More recently, the WEF released a report on common metrics and disclosures for ESG. The UNDP SDG Impact Programme have released SDG Impact Standards for Private Equity, Bonds and Enterprises. Importantly they are also looking at assurance of these in practice. 

In the UK we have also recently welcomed the BSI BS 8950 Guide to Enhancing Social Value an important step with a focus not just on understanding social value, but enhancing it, and explicitly recognising that to do this we have to acknowledge that some impacts are unintended, and some negative, and that rather than focusing on a single tool, we should be focusing on shared standards of practice and the right tools and measures for our own context.

Challenges and first steps

These broad movements can help with driving us to be able to take our first or next steps, and there are more and more people wanting to do so.  There are things we can all do to help each other to move forwards together:

There is lots to do! And we have a strong and supportive network here at Social Value UK, helping one another to speed up and take our next steps together.  Social value in procurement is an immensely important driver to make the changes we all need and address the challenges we face.  There is certainly more to come, we are looking forward to working with you all!