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Social Value: What, Why and How?

Social Value

In 2012, the Public Services (Social Value) Act became law. Essentially, the Act makes it mandatory for many public sector organisations to consider two things as part of their procurement process:

  • How can each procurement improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of its local area?
  • How can procurement be carried out to secure such improvements?

Typically, organisations which incorporate social value into their procurement process are local authorities, central government and organisations such as housing associations and universities.

There is much that could be said about the way these bodies choose to approach social value in their procurement processes, however we won’t discuss that here. Instead, this article is focused on what social value is, what it looks like and how you should approach it in your bids.

What is Social Value?

Generally speaking, there are 3 aspects to social value:


This is about how you engage with local communities in the areas where you work. Schools, colleges, local charities, sports teams, community groups are all typically the sorts of organisations you should be looking at under this aspect.


This is about how you plan to contribute to the local economy where the works are taking place in terms of employment and training, supply chain, national and regional living wages.


This is all about your approach to the environmental impact of your business. What are you doing to try and reduce that impact? How do you approach sustainability, your carbon footprint, recycling, re-using, reducing?

What Activities Does it Cover?

Below are some typical examples under each aspect of social value.

  • Engaging with local communities.
  • Offering services/materials/time free of charge for charitable activities.
  • Sponsoring local junior/amateur sports teams.
  • Encouraging employees to volunteer.
  • Sourcing labour locally wherever possible.
  • Offering work experience, training or apprenticeship schemes.
  • Using local suppliers wherever possible.
  • Paying the national/regional living wage.
  • Pro-active in saving energy.
  • Taking actions to recycle, re-use and reduce waste.
  • Acting to reduce carbon footprint.
  • Using eco-friendly products.
  • Using foodstuffs wherever possible that are locally sourced/organic/fair trade.

What Should Your Approach Be?

In terms of procurement, almost all tenders for public sector contracts contain some questions on social value. Generally speaking the questions tend to be focused on:

1. What are you already doing? How can you prove it?

If you are already actively engaged in social value endeavours then it is crucial you comprehensively record what you do so that you can produce examples when you need to.

If you set yourself targets for things like carbon footprint, charitable giving and local employment rates, then make sure these are monitored and the reports are stored for use in bids.

2. What can you offer the buyer?

If you already actively engage in social value initiatives, you will find it much easier to offer commitment to the buyer. You should know what works, how it impacts on your business financially and what is beyond your current capability.

What if I don’t do anything at present?

Then a good approach would be to invest time into putting policies in place and start taking action.

Having a positive and practical mindset will help you in deciding what you can commit to in terms of social value. Don’t worry about what larger companies do, you just need to start small.

  • Consider organising a company fun run for a chosen charity one Saturday.
  • Think about using more eco-friendly products in your office / kitchen.
  • Nominate a designated sustainability champion to look after recycling etc.

Small efforts can go a long way both in terms of tender success, but also the good impact you can have in your local community and environment.


Do some research on the areas where you work or want to work, engage with local charities, community groups, schools, colleges, job centres to see what they need and decide where you want to focus your efforts and what you are able to provide.


Think about the nature of your services. Could you recruit locally or do you need specialist skills which aren’t available in the area? If so, could you offer apprenticeships?

Alternatively, is the service one that engages local workers by default, e.g. cleaning and catering? How / Why do you recruit locally?

Think about suppliers and sub-contractors. Where are they based? Could any be selected from the local area or region where you work?


There are now so many ways to pro-actively engage in saving energy, recycling, re-using and reducing waste, sourcing sustainably. It would be a good motivation for you to set some targets and monitor and report on them.

Social _ Economic _ Environmental

Tips for Social Value in Bidding

Do Your Homework

If you are tendering on a regular basis then start doing some research on the buyers and the areas they are responsible for. Look at what they are doing in terms of social value and how you may be able to get involved if selected. Much of this information will be available on their websites and public documents so you won’t have to look far.

Don’t Be Disingenuous and Don’t Lie

When considering what social value you can offer, don’t be disingenuous about your selections. Don’t choose a charity or sponsor a local football team for the sake of it, there’s really no point and your buyers will see right through it in your bid. Most importantly don’t promise what you can’t/won’t do.

Instead choose commitments that genuinely mean something to you and your staff. Not only will you be helping causes that you actually care about, your team may also be more motivated as a result and your bids will only improve because of it.

Don’t Be Selfish

Charitable work of any kind is only really worth-while if you do it for the right reasons. Helping others for personal gain however is not. While social value initiatives are undoubtedly an excellent PR tool, this should never be your primary motivation.


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Updated on June 12, 2019

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