The Social Value and Localism Acts reflect a desire to include social value and social enterprises when the government commissions services. However, in its current form the act has many weaknesses and commissioning often practically excludes smaller, outcome-focused organisations. In this blog we discuss why local authorities need to do more if we want social enterprises and communities to take on land management.

What is the problem?

Local authorities own large amounts of land, and commission or deliver many land-based services. For this reason, lack of support from local authorities can be a big barrier to the development of social enterprise land management.

There is currently a division between what most local authorities offer, and what social enterprises are best placed to deliver. Commissioning strategies are often rigid and siloed, focusing on the management of specific services or bits of land. Social enterprises on the other hand, often want to use land to meet combinations of broader social outcomes. For example they might want to take on land to promote outdoor recreation, education, public health and community building. When a local authority pursues a parks strategy of commissioning an organisation simply to complete specific maintenance tasks like cutting grass, this is unlikely to attract community groups. Nor will it make the best use of what social enterprises have to offer.

Moreover, local authority procurement processes often end up favouring large private contractors. Services are regularly bundled together into large complex contracts which transfer high levels of risk or upfront costs onto the provider. Pre-qualification requirements and deferred payment arrangements, such as payment by results, also favour larger and private contractors over smaller, local and social enterprises. Legal and procurement teams struggle with innovative shared approaches to land use. Finally, there is often an unhelpful assumption that organisations who use volunteers should do work for less than the private sector.

What would good commissioning and procurement look like?

In line with the political push for local social enterprise land management, local authorities should be acting as market makers, actively promoting the delivery of social outcomes by encouraging innovative land management.

Commissioning strategy should explicitly focus on using land to deliver social and other outcomes. Joint commissioning should be encouraged, with different local authority teams working together. Local authorities should also join with external service providers such as the NHS or even private companies to commission for shared outcomes. Strategies should be flexible enough to allow innovative bids from social enterprises to be considered alongside more traditional approaches to land management.

Procurement should support social enterprises and other organisations who can demonstrate that they will provide social outcomes. Things that enable social enterprises to build sustainable businesses should be encouraged, for example long leases and shared risks and liabilities. Things that prevent social enterprises from participating should be avoided, for example unreasonable contract demands. Our research on community woodland management found that setting up social enterprise contract management schemes can make it easier for procurement teams to include social enterprises. Local authorities should also consider awarding grants to innovative projects that don’t fit into clear procurement categories.

John Tizard has put forward some excellent suggestions for how local authorities can take a ‘whole system’ approach to enabling social enterprises and the voluntary and community sector to deliver social value.

How do we get there?

As part of our current policy work we are exploring how we and others can help improve the situation for social enterprises seeking local authority contracts to manage land. Some of the ideas we are currently considering include::

  • Lobbying for the strengthening and extension of the Social Value Act and addressing the current lack of awareness about the Act and its application.
  • Lobbying local authorities to put social value at the heart of their policies, both at a senior level and within particular teams
  • Working with procurement teams to help them include social enterprise when considering options for land management
  • Encouraging social enterprises to build relationships with local authorities based on shared desired outcomes. Helping them make it easy for local authorities to account for the social value in their offerings
  • Understanding and publicising innovative models of partnership between local authorities and social enterprises
  • Promoting innovative partnership working between social enterprises with different focuses and skills, for example through Alliance Contracting

Please get in touch with any thoughts on this issue or any of the other areas we are looking at. Next week’s blog will look at how planning policy and land use classes affect social enterprises who want to work with land.

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