“A Change is Gonna Come” – looking at public procurement decisions

“A Change is Gonna Come” – looking at public procurement decisions

As the third annual Social Value Summit begins today in London, Mat Roberts argues for wider considerations than price in public procurement decisions.

In his most famous song, (clue: see above!) Sam Cooke wrote about the inevitability of the changes sought by the American Civil Rights movement.

In many ways the change those of us committed to social value are seeking has the same inevitability to it. Thinking more widely about the impact that commissioning services can have is not rocket science, but simple logic. Shouldn’t public sector commissioners achieve more through the procurement process than just buying services, goods or works at the lowest possible price?

The answer has always been ‘yes’ and we as providers have been prepared to provide the additional value desired. The challenge we have all faced is how to compare the offers made by the market, and in the absence of universal metrics we have all defaulted to the simplest, lowest common denominator price.

But the landscape has changed: the Social Value Act; European procurement regulations and local devolution all now place emphasis on delivering more than just the “most economically advantageous tender”. We need joined-up services that link good quality healthcare to a high value public realm; increased skills to more sustainable jobs; better infrastructure to reduced crime and reoffending; and well-managed public estate assets linked to vibrant, inclusive and thriving communities.

To see all this when commissioning a public service demands the courage and confidence that the market shares your ambition and will deliver.

The 250 people who will gather at the third  Social Value Summit in London today have this courage and ambition.  They all want to seize the opportunities that are presented by the need for public procurement to deliver more, quite often for less.  Austerity is not a pleasant experience for anyone to live through, ask Sam Cooke and the other activists in the civil rights movement.  The drivers for change in America started in the lean years of the Fifties and came to life as the economy started to grow in the Sixties.

In the UK we are still living through the challenges of austerity and are finding ways to work our way out.  Social value cannot be created in one single service line through commodification.  Social value is an integrated ambition and the opportunities it has opened up will not be realised in a ‘lowest-price-wins’, salami-sliced, race to the bottom.

Sam Cooke thought a change would come when people worked together and had the courage to see the benefits that change would bring.  We need the commissioning community to have the same courage and ask the market what it could do if it was asked to step, integrate and deliver outcomes not prices.

Mat Roberts is Director of Sustainability Strategy at Interserve.

The Social Value Summit is hosted by Interserve and Social Enterprise and supported by Business in the Community. For more information, visit: svsummit.interserve.com.

Mat Roberts

Mat Roberts is Director of Sustainability Strategy at Interserve.