In January 2017, the then Minister of Finance, with the support of the Northern Ireland Procurement Board (NIPB), agreed to bring forward proposals for the establishment of a Social Value Act for Northern Ireland, however, progress was halted within days following the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive.
Despite this lack of an Assembly, Social Enterprise NI (the sector body) continued, to play its part in leading the lobbying for such legislation via its role as Secretariat of an All Party Group on Social Enterprise. These actions have ensured a continued political focus on the need and importance of this Act.
The All Party Group, chaired by MLA Stewart Dickson, enjoys full cross party support as it continues to spread the message of the benefit this legislation would bring to the local economy. The public sector spends £3 billion annually on goods, services and works.
Colin Jess, Director Social Enterprise NI states: “We look enviously across at other parts of the UK who have social value legislation and see how this has had a significant impact on local communities and disadvantaged groups.
“The absence of local legislation has resulted in Northern Ireland falling behind the rest of the UK by not engaging with these groups in the development of long-term solutions on key social issues, with the aim of transforming delivery of future public services.
“The impact of legislation such as The Public Services (Social Value) Act England and Wales 2012 and Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 provides substantive evidence of how governments can ensure more effective spending of limited funds to deliver better social outcomes, while providing the best overall value for money to citizen.”
Recently, the Chair of the All-Party Group asked the Minister for Finance Conor Murphy for an update on the Department’s plan for a Social Value Act in January 2020. The Minister’s reply indicated that the NIPB is working with the social economy sector to explore options to widen social value through further development of procurement policy.
Welcoming this, Jess adds: “It has been encouraging to see questions to the Minister on social value legislation and to hear that this looks to be forming an integral part of policy. It would however be helpful if there was a timetable for a Northern Ireland Social Value Act. This would allow both the public and social enterprise sectors to consider the potential impact of this legislation in advance, and the types of innovative models and best practices available to transform services, maximise social value while delivering the desired policy outcomes.”
Northern Ireland’s public procurement policy on social value has been helpful. However, it must be recognised that it excludes local government (councils) and other bodies such as universities.
Therefore, legislation is the only way of ensuring that all Northern Ireland’s public bodies are legally obliged to consider social value in all aspects of their service delivery. Legislation is only one side of this coin. The other side requires policy and budget holders at the outset to commission and source services using different and more innovative delivery models. Commissioners will require the appropriate tools and techniques to ensure and enable the delivery of their desired social outcomes. Social Enterprise NI will continue to lobby and support the Assembly to ensure the establishment of a Social Value Act.