Blog: an update on Bristol's social value and the VCSE sector

Thursday, 14 December, 2017

Blog written by Mark Hubbard, Head of Commissioning at Voscur.

I gave evidence on behalf of Bristol VCSE sector at yesterday’s Scrutiny Task and Finish Group on Council Commissioning and Contracts (Bristol City Council scrutiny). Alongside Voscur, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) was also asked to present the perspectives of potential bidders for public service contracts – on commissioning and social value.

My presentation included these main points:

  • Bristol does well on the social value front – it was identified as one of the social value leaders last year (in a report by Social Enterprise UK).
  • Social value is of interest to Bristol VCSE organisations that commonly deliver public services (for people and communities).
  • Voscur’s action plan on commissioning is informed by Bristol VCSE organisations’ experiences of commissioning/procurement – we want those processes to really include VCSE organisations so that they can ultimately win public service contracts. Many parts of our sector’s priorities have already been adopted. There is still some way to go.
  • The Social Value Policy – which includes specific targets thanks to persistence of FSB and Voscur – has helped to shift the focus, with some success.
  • 68 of 163 contracts (in first 18 months of policy) included SV o 34% of those contracts went to Bristol-based organisations/businesses.
  • Most contracts (44%) went to medium-sized (50-249 employees) orgs/businesses; 20% to smaller (10-49 employees) and 2% to micro (fewer than 9 employees).
  • SV commitments across contracts worth £168m include 149 apprenticeships. 

We have raised the fundamental question ‘which organisations/businesses benefit from the Social Value Policy?’ The bullets above are really the first breakdown that has been produced. This has been a recurrent frustration – there is an ongoing problem with council resources to analyse data that would answer that question.

While it is good that 1/3 contracts are going to local orgs/businesses, I am less convinced about the contracts per size of organisation. Given that we know that Bristol’s VCSE sector comprises mostly micro and small organisations, I’m not sure that it’s particularly good that they have won 2% and 20% of the contracts in this period. Has the focus on social value and priority orgs (micro, small and medium; VCS and social enterprises) actually led to benefits for the smaller orgs? I can’t see it in this basic analysis, I am disappointed to say.

Anyways, it was a good discussion and there is more work to be done on these key points made by Voscur on behalf of the sector…

(a) Revise the priority organisations target – Voscur’s position is that the target should be the active inclusion of micro and small orgs/businesses (and not include medium-sized).

(b) Examine the culture of risk aversion – can something more enabling be done with smaller contracts (below threshold/s) so that micro and small org/businesses win contracts?

(c) Increase SV scores of tenders from 10% to 20% - we fully support this.

(d) Investigate ‘passporting’ so that bidders only have to submit policies/procedures once and the assessment of those is ‘passported’ into other contract processes.

(e) Require the inclusion of micro/small/local orgs/business in bids – for Voscur, it follows that, if contracts are too big for smaller orgs to bid for and the only real likelihood of delivering public services is through sub-contracting/collaborations, it would be helpful for commissioners to state that as a requirement of the market. This one is controversial and I’m not sure it if it will fly. I’ll update further as things progress.

In the meantime, it would be helpful to hear more from VCSE organisations – how we could do things differently and how we would like to engage with commissioning, procurement and social value. You can contact me by emailing: or calling 0117 909 9949.

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