Even if you’re relatively new to tendering, by the time you’ve read through all the tender documentation you’ve hopefully been able to understand what kind of information and response the buyer is looking for in their tender questionnaire. After all, they’re asking questions about your business and the sector in which you operate, so although it can be difficult ensuring your answers score highly, you’re likely to at least have an idea of what the questions mean and what might make when writing a ‘good’ tender response.
But then, usually at the end, comes a question on your commitment to ‘Social Value’ and suddenly you’re in the dark. What does the buyer want? What are they looking for? What am I supposed to offer for this? This question can be particularly difficult if you’re a small business and you’ve perhaps not thought about this aspect of doing business in the public sector.
The Social Value Act 2012 requires public sector buyers (in England) to consider how they could improve the economic, environmental and social wellbeing of their local area through their procurement activities. As a result, most tenders include a question on this, and the relative weight of this question towards the overall tender score tends to be around 5-10%, so not insignificant. And definitely worthy of your attention.
How to answer that tricky Social Value question in a tender response
Firstly, read the question carefully. The buyer may make reference to their own policies on environmental, social wellbeing and employment opportunities in which case, make sure you read that policy and ensure your answer is aligned to the values, aims or specific quantifiable targets contained in that policy. They may also ask you to sign up to their own Social Value charter. If they don’t refer to their own policy or a particular set of goals, have a look on their website, as you might find it there, or you might find some related information.
The question might break social value down into social, economic and environmental, and ask you to describe your approach to one or more of these subsets. You may at first think you don’t have anything to offer, because you’ve never written it down before, but chances are high that you are already creating social value, but perhaps haven’t realised it yet.
Think about the environmental aspects of your business. Do you recycle waste? Paper, card, plastic, glass etc? Do your products come in recyclable packaging? Do you take all your packaging and waste away with you when you leave site? Does your company own/run electric cars? Think about your staff. Do you pay the Living Wage? Do you recruit people from diverse backgrounds? Do you employ locally? Do you have a training programme and/or offer apprenticeships? Do you use local supply chains? Do your staff spend their wages locally? All of these feed into Social Value.
It’s also likely that as part of their Social Value policy, the buyer has an aim to spend more money with SMEs, so if you’re an SME, you’d immediately be helping them attain that goal, simply by being awarded the contract. Don’t hesitate to point this out.
What are your Social Value commitments?
More commonly now, buyers are asking for real commitments (often in monetary terms) and actual specifics as to how you intend to improve one or more of these subsets of social value and sustainability as a direct result of winning the contract, i.e. not just your general approach (all those listed above) but they want facts and figures about what exactly you will do and what the benefit will be. They may ask for your proposals to be SMART i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Consider what your commitments are, and how each of these elements can be identified and documented accordingly.
The most common measures of Social Value commitment:
1. Employment & Training
- Number of new apprentices to be created by your organisation as a result of this contract?
- No. of New Jobs to be created by your organisation as a result of the contract?
- Will you pay the National Living Wage as a minimum to everyone working on the contract?
- Number of individuals to be provided with work experience (minimum 5 days)
- Unemployed residents to be supported into work
2. Support the Community
- What support will be offered to local community organisations to support their development
- What facilities to be provided for use by community groups and voluntary organisations as a direct result of this contract
- Time allowed for your employees to volunteer for community work in the local area (No. expert hrs)
- Donations to be made to local community funds to support local causes (Value)
3. Supporting Local Businesses
- The total amount (£) to be spent in the local supply chain (within the local area through the contract (Value per year)
- Support to be provided for local businesses to assist them to survive and grow (No. expert hrs)
4. Sustainable Environment
- The amount of materials and products from sustainable sources
- How will you build diverse supply chains with sustainable relationships
- Reduction of carbon footprint to net zero and adapting to climate change (%CO2 reduction)
- Create greener and cleaner places
Think carefully about these commitments, as they will form part of the contract and you will need to monitor and report on them, so they need to be achievable, and proportionate to the value of the contract. If you can’t afford to donate 5% of the contract value to local charitable causes, don’t say you will. Think about how you will go about fulfilling the contract. Will there be opportunities to spend money with local businesses and therefore support other SMEs? What do you know of the local community and is there anything you can do to help? Can you hold educational/informational events in the local community centre? Could/would any of your employees volunteer a number of hours a month at a local charity/community centre for the duration of the contract? Will the contract enable you to grow and permanently employ a number of local people? Could an apprenticeship be created? Is your company local to the buyer and so will save on transport emissions/reduce congestion on the roads?
How to answer Social Value tender questions – a summary
In summary, you don’t have to be a large company donating huge amounts of money to charity to score highly on Social Value questions. A better answer is to demonstrate how per £ of your turnover/profit, you provide a much bigger contribution to Social Value than a bigger organisation. Read the question carefully, understand what the buyer is asking, align the response to the aims and values of the buyer, and ensure any commitments you make are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.
Need further help to write the perfect tender responses? read our 7 Reasons You Won A Tender article.