The government’s just-published Civil Society Strategy has reaffirmed ministers commitment to creating more public-sector mutuals and set out plans to require departments to more actively factor in “social value” aspects of proposals when commissioning services or allocating grants.
Subtitled "Building a future that works for everyone” in a throwback to one the core themes of prime minister Theresa May’s 2016 Conservative Party leadership bid, the 123-page document sets out a range of ways ministers hope to boost inclusion and public-participation in decision-making.
But the messages it sends on the future of service-delivery are likely to be of most interest to civil servants and other public-sector workers.
In their introduction to the document culture secretary Jeremy Wright and civil society minister Tracey Crouch said the government was clear that the provision of services should be “seen as the business of the community, not solely the responsibility of government” and that providers should be drawn from “a broad range of suppliers from the public sector and beyond”.
The creation of more public-sector mutuals was a core goal of coalition government Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, but was widely seen as failing to captivate a rich seam of staff keen to spin out their own operations away from council or departmental support.
The strategy says ministers are keen to extend the support currently offered to public sector teams keen to create mutual to deliver services but insists that the current support programme for public service mutuals “is proving popular and successful”.
“The government is exploring options to extend the support currently offered to public sector teams aspiring to form mutuals to other community-led and social organisations which are already outside the public sector and wish to deliver public services,” it says.
“This would create an environment of far greater user-led, community-led and staff-led delivery. We intend to consult on the implications of this ambition, including the need for a specified threshold of eligibility and the potential value of public recognition of those organisations which meet this threshold – before designing a programme of action if the consultation indicates that this is needed.”
The strategy says the pending consultation would also “take views” on the impact of national pay deals on locally-provided services that were no-longer part of formal national arrangements.
On boosting social-value results via central-government commissioning and grant allocation, the strategy says ministers want to improve the use to the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 so that its principles would apply to the whole of government spending and decision-making.
“Central government departments will be expected to apply the terms of the Social Value Act to goods and works as well as services,” it says. “They will also be expected to ‘account for’ the social value of new procurements, rather than just ‘consider’ it as currently.”
The strategy says that DCMS will “lead the way” on the new approach, with other departments required to follow “in due course”.
Elsewhere, the strategy said ministers wanted to continue building an evidence base for the use of Social Impact Bonds to deliver results-based payments to investors, but were also keen to develop “additional financial models for social enterprises that deliver public services.
It cites non-repayable capital grants, grants that are repayable only when an enterprise is profitable, and equity investment as examples.
The strategy also floats the idea of the introduction of citizen commissioners for some services, citizen juries to introduce a new tier of local decision-making, and the use of around £90m of funds in dormant bank accounts to fund programmes to combat social exclusion.