Chris White is Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington. Follow Chris on Twitter.
On Tuesday my Private Member’s Bill on reforming public services passed through the House of Lords to ensure that it will be law, a year and a half after I introduced it. The soon to be “Public Services (Social Value) Act 2010-12” asks public bodies to consider how they might use public service contracts to improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of our communities. This may sound a small change, but it could make a big difference for thousands of charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises across the country.
As a Conservative candidate in the last general election, one of the things that most inspired me in our manifesto was the vision that it sought to create of public services; run by our communities, for our communities. This idea recognised that by using the expertise and dedication of voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises we could not only reconnect people with the delivery of the services that they use, but also help to create better public services from it. However, this vision is not going to come about unless we have a procurement system that appreciates the benefits that they create alongside the cost that they are willing to deliver services for. We all know of examples in our own areas of dedicated groups or socially responsible businesses which not only deliver cost effective services but also generate additional benefits through apprenticeships, using volunteers and reinvesting money into community projects.
This Bill will ensure that their unique contribution is properly evaluated and considered when bidding for public service contracts and level the playing field for smaller organisations to take on bigger corporations. It offers us an opportunity to fuse the innovation and effectiveness most often associated with the private sector, with a sense of public service and a social mission. In asking all public bodies to consider the benefits that they could create through public service contracts this legislation will, I hope, open the door to public service contracts to many organisations that otherwise would not have been considered.
I also believe that it in the long term it will help us to keep the costs of our public services down. Successive case studies have showed that services which better engage with their communities, that enthuse their staff with a social mission and are more holistic in their approach deliver better results in the long term. By getting things right on the ground in the short term, we prevent costs rising in the long term. In using community-led and community-focused organisations to deliver our public services we can ensure that we put in place the foundations for long term sustainability and quality.
It is all too tempting in politics to focus too much on well-meaning rhetoric and not enough on practical changes that can help achieve positive ends. So on choosing a Bill to put forward after the Ballot in June 2010, I decided on something forward that could not only pass but make a real difference. Only time will tell how big an impact this will make on our communities, but already thousands of organisations are excited by the possibilities that they believe it will create.
At the last election, we made a commitment to reform public services to “enable social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups to play a leading role in delivering public services and tackling deep-rooted social problems.” This Bill is putting those words into practice and gives a vote of confidence to those groups and individuals who are striving to involve local people and improve outcomes. I hope that this will mark the beginning of a new chapter in the history of our public services and shows that we are delivering on our promise to produce more local, more accountable and better quality services.