Happy Christmas and be careful what you wish for: Section 19 and the Social Value Act

It was with great interest that I - and many in the community transport (CT) sector - awaited the House of Commons Transport Committee report into the proposed consultation by the Department for Transport (DfT) into Section 19.

The reinterpretation by the DfT of existing legislation has caused a significant amount of turmoil in the CT sector and in the Transport Committee report’s own words ‘using a sledgehammer’ was not a sensible approach.
The Transport Committee’s report has highlighted some serious issues, but has also set a very positive tone for the users of CT services in the future. What I was surprised about and very pleased about, was the high importance given to the Public Services (Social Value) Act.

At least a decade ago, we campaigned for a Social Value Act that would capture the distinct value that public benefit organisations bring. We felt that this would help to create a level playing field when public benefit organisations competed against the private sector. When the Social Value Act was passed into law in 2012, we felt that it was not as strong as we would like (our thoughts on how to fix it are here). It was, however, a giant step forward in public procurement.

The focus on social value in the Transport Committee’s report is not without its ironies. One of the complaints that has led to the review of Section 19 was that of private sector operators feeling that Section 19 gave CT providers an advantage and that the playing field was not level.

CTs provide a distinct service, combat isolation and loneliness and do so by providing services for some of the most vulnerable in society. The viability of many CTs will be threatened if they are not permitted to undertake SEN work. However, with a focus on the Social Value Act, the boot is on the other foot.

In a world where social value is highlighted, profit making companies will need to provide social value if they wish to win contracts – social value like volunteering, social value like subsidised journeys for elderly and disabled people, social value like low cost services for community organisations. In short, they will need to provide for their communities in the same way that CTs currently do… And then we will have a level playing field, just not in the way that the private sector had envisioned when they raised their complaints against community transport. Everyone will need to provide measurable social value on every contract.

We thought it would take years, if it happened at all, for the Social Value Act to come into play as part of public transport, but it looks like the turmoil created by the proposed changes will have a huge beneficial outcome for society. Let’s hope the Social Value Act is incorporated into all new guidelines. Happy Christmas!!!

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