I believe that Social Accounting and Audit (SAA) can be a framework for accountability and reporting, which, if used to support public procurement, will enable devolution. Despite the current move towards greater control of purchasing by central government in Westminster, SAA can be a way to make devolution work.
Devolution is commonly understood to be the transfer of functions previously exercised by ministers and the national parliament to a subordinate elected body on a geographical basis.
In Greater Manchester (GM), we have been leading the way. Budgets for health and social care, planning and housing, business support and low carbon technologies have been entrusted to sub-regional level by Government.
Furthermore, ‘social value’ is now enshrined in GM-wide Procurement Policy, and the need to maximise spending power for the benefit of local people – to achieve a social, environmental and economic impact – is recognised as a major way to ‘sweat’ public, private and third sector investment for the common good.
Over 10 years ago, at the New Local Government conference, David Milliband announced, ‘at the local level we need a stronger framework of opportunity and responsibility …. – in fact a double devolution, not just to the Town Hall but beyond, to neighbourhoods and individual citizens’.
The Office of the Third Sector (now Civil Society) was created and local authorities were encouraged to devolve the delivery of local services to local people.
But it didn’t quite happen like that…
What we have in GM isn’t a ‘double devolution’, but it is one where the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector has a strong voice. Words like ‘co-production’, ‘co-design’, ‘asset based approaches’ and ‘reform’ are used to indicate an evolving sense of, ‘we are all in it together’. The delivery isn’t yet devolved to local people.
At the heart of GM devolution is a need to make the local economy sustainable. It is recognised that if this is to work, voluntary, community, social enterprise organisations, neighbourhoods and citizens must be ready and able to take the opportunity and responsibility. And they must convince Town Halls that they can deliver. Maybe therefore, this is why the double devolution hasn’t really happened?
SAA is not a new concept, having been implemented in various forms and by a wide range of organisations since the 1970s. But there is a growing number of organisations in GM that have adopted this approach to help them measure their overall impact and quality by integrating the ‘proving – improving – and be accountable’ processes into their day-to-day operations.
SAA accurately describes what an organisation is achieving in economic, social and environmental terms, and allows it to demonstrate to others what its principle purposes are and what it does. It assesses social and community enterprises in a holistic way, incorporating both the views of everyone connected with the organisation and measuring indicators of its success.
The framework also includes independent verification, an audit process whereby the results can be proved to be robust and reliable, which can give confidence to both the organisation and the Town Hall looking to devolve responsibility or place a contract.
One of the main elements of SAA is the comprehensive involvement of an organisation’s stakeholders, and this can prove one of the most important reasons for procuring from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. SAA can demonstrate to health and other commissioners that service users and staff are indeed involved in the planning, operation and management of services from social enterprises.
Unlimited Potential (UP) is a social enterprise providing health and happiness services, which grew up in the Charlestown and Lower Kersal area of Salford.
Formed by residents participating in a local health task group, and now tackling health issues in partnership with local people, its work includes managing services at two local healthy living centres, health outreach services and work which addresses the specific health and happiness issues of local residents.
UP is very keen to prove its ‘positive impact’ as it develops a sustainable business strategy, and has used social accounting and audit to do this.
UP’s ability to demonstrate the benefits of its work through social accounting and audit, adds ‘value’ to public service commissioners who are provided with evidence of partnership working, involvement of local people in the design and management of services, innovation, responsiveness to local need and local ownership. This has contributed to UP becoming a nationally recognised and respected social enterprise.
SAA can be used to demonstrate individual and collective strengths, prove the sector’s competence as providers of public services, and meeting the challenge of taking local responsibility and citizen led action.
It can help devolution to happen.
Anne Lythgoe, Vice Chair & Treasurer/Finance Director www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk