Plan to boost social value in public spending not radical enough, says Co-op Party

The government still favours corporate models which are not best suited to delivering services, says policy officer Joe Fortune

The Co-operative Party has welcomed government plans to strengthen the Social Value Act, which applies to the procurement of public services, but says a more radical change is needed.

The act, which came into force in January 2013, requires people who commission public services to think about how they can also secure wider social, economic and environmental benefits.

Now the government has suggested increasing the responsibility the act places on commissioners of public contracts from a duty ‘to consider’, to a compulsion, which the Party says “is right and necessary”.

The Party called for this measure in its 2017 policy platform An economy where wealth and power are shared – although it went further and called for  “a radical overall public procurement to ensure our country against narrow, short-term value-for-money judgement”.

Joe Fortune, the Party’s national policy manager, says in a blog that the shift in policy is a testament to lobbying by Labour/Co-op MPs but warns that policy is still “grounded on the assumption that it is the private sector which is best placed to deliver public contracts”.

Mr Fortune says David Lidlington, minister for the Cabinet Office, made a speech on the policy “which sought to walk a tightrope between re-affirming continued government support for the the same  types of businesses that delivered the Carillion crisis, while at the same time trying to claim that … it was committed to ‘responsible capitalism’.”

He added: “The Co-operative Party believes that ‘maximum return for shareholder’-led businesses are poorly positioned to deliver services in the interests in the communities they seek to serve.

Related: Can worker-owned firms fill the gap left by Carillion?

David Lidlington, minister for the Cabinet Office

“Co-operatives, mutuals and not-for-profit providers should replace the current private sector service delivery and will continue to support any measures which bring that closer to reality.”

And he said the government still had much more work to do.

“For all the headlines, there is little to suggest a willingness to fundamentally change the status quo, nor to act to ensure our economy properly promotes a different way of doing business,” he said.


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