Manchester City Council’s revised approach to social value has been a long time in the making. Ellen Bassam followed March’s Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee to find out if it is worth the wait
This month Manchester City Council’s Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee’s agenda included the council’s report on its approach to social value (particularly with regards to procurement), the Estates Strategy, and the post-transfer governance for when it takes back control of Northwards Housing. Leader Cllr Leese played an excellent game of self-congratulate, duck, cover and fob off responsibility. Overall, scrutiny scratched the surface, but it was a missed opportunity for questioning that reflects the interlinked nature of many problems, possible solutions and the role governance structures can play in addressing these.
The approach to Social Value
Social value is a term denoting the non-monetary value element of a good or service. It is a particularly important tool for procurement (the process by which a public body acquire a service or product and reward the contract). It involves looking beyond the price of each individual contract, and looking at what the collective benefit to a community is, when a public body chooses to award a contract. The council’s new approach that necessitates at least a 30% weighting of social value in the valuation of tenders is, as Cllr Leese self-congratulatory expressed, innovative and ‘country leading’ . Preston was merely the ‘populariser’. Discussing the topic, committee members raised questions over how apprenticeships were affected by Covid-19, whether funding cuts will affect the delivery of the new social value approach (short answer: yes), the need for Black and Minority Ethnic groups to be given greater priority and attention throughout the procurement process, employment, and a small tidbit on the 10% of the social value criterion on zero carbon.
The discussion regarding the need for BAME groups to be given higher priority was of particular interest. Questions were asked as to whether such groups need to be given higher weighting during the scoring response, and be discussed with suppliers during the management and delivery of services. What was shocking, was the revelation that there is zero data collection on the number of BAME owned businesses by MCC, making the monitoring of this, impossible. When asked whether this data could start to be collected, Cllr Leese declared that he ‘can’t see how we would get it’. Perhaps he’d do well to ask somebody with a greater imagination for assistance. Thanks, in part, to Chair Cllr Russell’s (Northenden) interventions it was later adopted as a formal recommendation that data on BAME and woman-owned businesses needs to be collected.
Cllr Wright (Hulme) questioned on the 10% environment factor weighting. She asked how it will be enacted, and whether it just considers carbon or other environmental factors too. The answer given was somewhat vague, merely highlighting the monitoring objectives. What was most worrisome was the line that it will be taken into account ‘where we think climate change is a significant issue’ (aka highways). Herein lies the missed opportunity of the committee to reiterate to procurement that climate change is a significant issue in all areas of council service procurement, not just those that seem obvious. For example, weighting the environment highly during the procurement of a contractor to build a highway is just as important as it is for a company competing in the care sector. Why? Because the care sector employs more women and minority ethnic groups, and the environment must be considered important across the board, not just in the male-dominated industries. Without this embedded at the procurement stage, a just green transition is some way off. The committee should have probed further here, and failed to do so.
What Estates Strategy? The report submitted was so out of date (partially due to the pandemic) they chose not to discuss it at all and sent it back. Fair play.
Post transfer governance-Council Housing service
Next the committee discussed the governance structure for the transition of Northwards Housing coming back under council control (earlier stages in the decision making process have been discussed at previous R&G committees). Questions revolved around ensuring tenants were given a strong voice under the new plans. Cllrs wanted to ensure the tenant base was representative and to ensure that transition was managed smoothly. Despite being mentioned on the first page of the report submitted, nothing was raised regarding the retrofitting that will be required on much of the housing stock to meet zero carbon targets. This was a shame considering that it is an area tenants will need guidance and support with. Navigating what retrofitting actually entails and how it will be carried out is a looming issue. Creating space for support with this specifically within the governance structures would have been a good start, but the committee did not ask a single question on it. Hopefully, if the tenants are given the voice the councillors advocated so strongly for, they can ask the questions that their representatives forgot about.