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Increasingly, public sector procurement is taking a social value focus to ensure that goods and services bought locally create wider benefits for communities, stakeholders, and society as a whole. 

The spending power of local authorities and NHS Trusts is sizeable1 and increasingly integrated. A strengthening of their role as ‘anchor’ institutions2 further enables the leadership and consolidation of health and care services and creates an opportunity to use procurement practices to reduce health inequalities and promote social justice.  

This report presents emerging findings from what should still be seen as the early stages of the development of a social value approach to procurement by East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT). These findings are offered to support further development of ELFT’s approach and to provide insights for other organisations who are beginning to explore how to use procurement to contribute to improving health and reducing health inequalities.  

The focus of the report is on learning around processes – what has worked well and where processes might be enhanced – more than on the benefits realised to date. The Strategy Unit project team worked in collaboration with ELFT staff and supplier representatives between June and September 2022. 

The feedback from this evaluation identified the following priorities for further developing the approach: 

  • A simpler and smaller set of social value priority actions. 
  • An Explicit linking of social value priorities within future tender documents to specific business priorities. 
  • A Need to consolidate engagement activity and service user involvement. 
  • Refining the tendering process to be clearer in how it identifies, and checks adopted questions and criteria. 
  • A clearer definition of local. 

Our evaluation found that ELFT has adopted social value principles that are well supported and have begun to translate into the practical operation of services.  Moving beyond these initial aims will require a deeper understanding of how they may relate to a wider and more complex pool of contracts. This will also demand closer attention to commercial realities within the marketplace and a renewed focus on the role of service users in helping to shape service design and challenge delivery. 

The report outlines a number of potential enhancements to ELFT’s social value approach, which include; developing a single toolkit for social value procurement, agreeing a social value data sharing and information protocol and extending market development activities.