Friday, November 25, 2016

Ros in the Lords: Bus Services Bill (Report Stage, Day 2)... again...

Ros was back again, later in the debate, supporting a Labour amendment on a subject close to the heart of Liberal Democrats everywhere...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

My Lords, I offer the support of these Benches for the amendment. It would be rather strange if we did not, because the ​Social Value Act 2012 was a Private Member’s Bill taken through this House by my noble friend Lord Newby. I raised the question of the use of this Act in Committee, so I am grateful to the Labour Benches for picking this up and transferring it into an amendment.

As we have heard, the Social Value Act allows public bodies to take a much broader range of issues into account than conventional procurement practices do, so they can think about the environment, community well-being and the local economy. It actually goes one stage further, because the Act makes people think about the considerable financial power of public procurement in an area and is a way of local authorities and local health authorities harnessing their own commissioning power for the benefit of their communities.

As we have heard, the evaluation last year by the noble Lord, Lord Young, was that, while there had been some real success stories, the Social Value Act was not being used enough and was not sufficiently understood. I have a lot of sympathy with an amendment which puts this on the face of the Bill because it forces commissioning authorities to really think about whether they have given sufficient consideration to this. Overall, it is a way of ensuring that compliance improves.

I was very taken with the conversations I had on this matter with HCT, formerly Hackney Community Transport, which is a social enterprise that provides bus services in a range of areas as diverse as London boroughs and Jersey. It feels very strongly—and made the point to me—that current procurement practices often freeze out smaller businesses. That is a great pity because some of the best bus operators in the country are the small, local ones. It is important to find ways to strengthen this aspect of the Bill and really help local authorities, in their various forms, to make the most of this considerable new power.

In response, the Minister noted that the guidance associated with the Bill would include appropriate references to the 2012 Social Value Act, which seemed to provide sufficient reassurance to allow the withdrawal of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch's amendment.

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