It was just over a year ago that I took up my role as VCSE (Voluntary, Community, and Social Enterprise) Crown Representative. It’s been an incredibly busy but rewarding year, and I have met with so many impressive individuals and organisations along the way, seeing first hand the vibrancy, success, and potential of these sectors.
It’s clear that charities and social enterprises continue to play a vital role in our public services, and my aim since I took on this position has been to further reduce barriers to participation in delivering public services to help these organisations thrive even more. For this reason, one of the first things I was pleased to get involved in was input into the Civil Society Strategy.
This ambitious long term vision sets our government’s plan to work with and for civil society over the coming years.
I am actively working to promote early engagement and co-design and to hold authorities to account for poor practice, delivering on commitments in the strategy such as raising awareness of Contracts Finder and the Public Procurement Review Service. The commitment to strengthen the Social Value Act is also high on my agenda, more of which I talk about below.
VCSE Advisory Panel
My next priority was to establish the VCSE Advisory Panel, to ensure that the sector can continue to have a voice. I have hosted several meetings since its formation in September 2018.
As a regular forum for senior representatives from charities, social enterprises and umbrella bodies, the panel continues to be an excellent opportunity for government to consult with the sector, and for the sector to raise issues and concerns with government officials and me. The panel are instrumental in advising and supporting my role.
Representatives from across Whitehall have presented to the panel and received feedback from members on a variety of topics. Examples include the Ministry of Justice who presented a procurement strategy to the group and the Government Legal Department who presented work on guidance to support the development of consortia and bid partnerships to further improve the accessibility of government contracts. The panel has continued to be particularly helpful in feeding into government’s work to expand the use of the Social Value Act across central government departments.
Social Value in commissioning and procurement
This is an important commitment in the Civil Society Strategy and involves expanding use of the Social Value Act across central government departments. The Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington announced this commitment as part of the government’s response to the Outsourcing Review.
Throughout the programme, I’m ensuring that the voice of our sectors is represented and the effectiveness of the design to meets its objectives. In summary, through this expansion:
- all procurements above the Public Contracts Regulations threshold will be required to evaluate for social value (providing it does not add complexity or cost to the procurement process, restrict markets or exclude small businesses from government contracts).
- departments will be required to apply the act to goods and works contracts and not just services contracts as set out in the current legislation
- departments will be required to report on social impact
- 4000 commercial staff will attend mandatory training on social value
This is one of the biggest changes to public procurement in recent years, so I have been thrilled with the extremely positive feedback from both the sector and commercial staff who will be the ones implementing these changes.
I was particularly struck by the reception at the Government Commercial Function Leadership Conference on 27th February 2019, where I led two successful seminars for senior government commercial staff on ‘The Importance of Social Value for Commercial Success’.
We were also grateful to Lord Victor Adebowle, Chair of SEUK, and Veronica Daly, Chief Procurement Officer at King’s College London, who presented at the conference. It was hugely important that we heard voices from outside of government. The conference theme was “Beyond Price” and the whole day was extremely well-received by the 600 senior government commercial staff who attended.
I have also presented to Commercial Directors at all central government departments, fellow Crown Representatives, and the Crown Commercial Services just to name a few, and continue to engage with ministers to further this agenda.
But there are further opportunities for our sectors in government’s supply chain. So I have been meeting a number of government’s strategic suppliers in order to raise awareness of the opportunities that VCSEs can bring in delivery of public services, and to highlight social value requirements.
Strategic suppliers in their Annual Review now have to include how many charities and social enterprises they have contracted with, which will help with accountability for government’s ambition to spend £1 in every £3 with SMEs (including VCSEs) by 2022.
It’s vital to ensure that the voices of civil society organisations are directly heard clearly when trying to identify ways to increase their involvement in public services.
That’s why over the last year or so I have been involved in and hosted a number of roundtable discussions, in addition to my regular VCSE Advisory Panel meetings. For example, there was a Social Enterprise Roundtable with the Prime Minister in July last year which brought the amazing work of our social enterprises to the attention of our head of government.
More recently I co-hosted a roundtable for BAME organisations to look at specific issues that they face in working with government, and identified a number of key areas of work to take forward to help enable these organisations to be part of the procurement change which will have a great impact on our communities.
In addition to the Social Value consultation, we have also been working with Government Legal Service to develop a guide for VCSE organisations who might be considering bidding for government contracts under a consortia or bid partnership arrangement. This work is now at an advanced stage, and has the potential to really empower those organisations who, alone, might not cover the full scope of services needed for a contract.
I commissioned DCMS to publish plain English Guide to Working with Central and Local Government for VCSEs – please do take a look. You’ll see that in this guide, the Civil Society Strategy and the social value consultation, there are plenty of examples showcasing the impact that VCSEs make in our communities. I will continue to share these stories, so please do write to me and share yours.
Cabinet Office and DCMS have issued a consultation on the draft toolkit they have designed for the joint programme to expand the use of the Social Value Act across central government departments.
The purpose of the consultation is to identify any potential barriers to participation in public procurement by small organisations and VCSEs to ensure it meets the objective of diversifying public supply chains.
The consultation closes on 10th June 2019, so please make sure you have responded by then to ensure your voice has been heard!
I will also be hosting a roundtable with some large VCSE organisations and umbrella bodies to discuss the potential for a charity or social enterprise to become a government strategic supplier.
Stay up to date
You can also follow me on twitter – @VCSECrownRep – for more regular updates!