About the Social Value Unit


The Northern Ireland Executive is committed to building a fairer and more equal society for all

On 5th November 2015, the Procurement Board agreed the Strategic Review of Social Clauses and the Buy Social Construction approach for implementation from April 2016.  From this date onwards, the Buy Social requirements are to be used in procurement above £2m for buildings contracts and above £4m for civil engineering contracts.

The Procurement Board discussed the Buy Social Services approach at its meetings on 13 January and 24 February 2017 and, following further discussion with a number of Departments, the model is now agreed.  The approach should be considered in Services contracts with an anticipated value of £500,000 per annum or more.

The Social Value Unit published an updated approach for Services and ICT contracts in February 2020, in order to respond to the changing labour market.  It is now recommended that social value is considered in Services and ICT contracts with an anticipated value of £100,000 per annum or more.

Social Value in NI

An overview of the key policy documents related to Social Value is set out below.

Draft Programme for Government 2016 – 21 –  The Buy Social approach is one tool that Departments can use to help achieve against draft Programme for Government (PfG) 2016-21 outcomes.

OECD Report – The OECD strategic review of the Public Sector in Northern Ireland recommends the Government “Develop and make available expertise in social clauses to commissioning and procurement officials as they undertake their work”.

Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland (2011 – 2021)
The Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland (2011 – 2021) reinforces The Executive’s commitment to “maximise the social benefits of investment”.

PGN 01/13 – PGN 01/13: Integrating Social Considerations into Contracts was endorsed by the Procurement Board with effect from 8th November 2013 for use by those bodies subject to NIPPP. Following the Procurement Board adopting the Buy Social approach in construction contracts from April 2016, further revisions were made to PGN 01/13 to better reflect Buy Social requirements and the revised version was published in September 2016.

Letter of Expectation from the First and deputy First Ministers
Social Value is included in the letter of expectation from the First & deputy First Minister which states:

“The Executive is committed to achieving the maximum social value from public sector investment and procurements. In order to help achieve this, you will work with CPD and departments to seek opportunities to develop and extend the Buy Social approach into new areas including: projects that use Financial Transaction Capital; Digital Inclusion; Asset Management and the Circular Economy. We expect SIB to work with departments to develop legislation that will ensure social value is delivered consistently across government.”

Common Myths Dispelled

1. Is it legal?

Yes. It is legal to consider social value, provided care is taken to accommodate UK and EU procurement frameworks. The Central Procurement Directorate has issued guidance on how this can be achieved.

2. Does it cost more?

Incorporating social value into contracts need not make them more expensive. Ensuring the social value requirement is proportionate to the size of the contract helps to minimise cost implications and contractors can seek industry/government training resources.

3. Will delivery of contract be more difficult?

If social value requirements are defined clearly at the outset, there is no reason why they can’t be delivered as part of the contract. Again, they should be in proportion to the contract value but also within the expertise of the types of contractors likely to be interested in your contract.

4. Are there any risks?

If you clearly describe the social value requirements in the procurement documents, all bidders should be clear as to what they are tendering for. Best practice is to be as explicit as possible at the very outset. You can contact the Social Value Unit for further advice and support.

Five Key Considerations

1. Think Carefully

Think carefully about what you do and make sure you can do it well. If you want social value requirements to be achievable, you need to ensure they are proportionate to the contract value and appropriate to the sector.

2. Act Early and Seek Advice

Consider how social value can be achieved as you define your overall objectives. Seek advice from the Social Value Unit by emailing info@buysocialni.org.

3. Consider the Procurement Strategy

The wider procurement strategy can also help to deliver social value.  If the procurement has been designed with social value in mind, this can increase opportunities for Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise organisations and micro business entities.  For example:

  • Reserved Contracts;
  • Use of Lots;
  • Use of Dynamic Purchasing Systems; and
  • Avoiding unnecessarily-onerous terms and conditions.

4. Be Relevant

Ensure that you link the social value requirements to the subject matter of the contract. Ensure that you link the social value requirement to your organisation’s core aims and policies.