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How Cheshire and Merseyside has embedded social value at scale

How Cheshire and Merseyside has embedded social value at scale
By Dave Sweeney, Shelley Brough and Becky Jones
23 August 2023

Dave Sweeney, associate director of partnerships and sustainability at Cheshire and Merseyside ICS, Shelley Brough, head of integrated commissioning and social value programme lead at Cheshire East Council, and Becky Jones, social value lead at NHS Arden & GEM CSU explain how they went about embedding social value at scale.

Cheshire and Merseyside Health and Care Partnership (HCP) has embedded social value at scale, building on the HCP members’ own responsibilities as anchor institutions as well as working proactively with local communities, businesses and suppliers to extend the reach and impact of any work.

Having laid solid foundations through a Social Value Charter and award scheme, the HCP launched an Anchor Institution Charter and Framework in 2022 to drive and monitor tangible achievements in delivering social value. Alongside this, a Prevention Pledge was developed, which has now been adopted by all 17 trusts across Cheshire & Merseyside. Now, all elements of their work must form part of the Anchor process.

The challenge

Developing an at-scale approach to social value began in 2018 when Cheshire and Merseyside HCP became a social value accelerator site. Led by Cheshire East Council and the HCP, in conjunction with NHS England, the vision was to weave fairness, sustainability and equality of opportunity into every aspect of the HCP’s work, to deliver best value for residents, and tackle the main causes of ill health and social inequalities at the source. The result was an extensive combined effort to produce a social value charter that reflected the needs of local communities and the aspirations of service providers.

Coproducing a vision for social value

Working in partnership with voluntary organisation, Wellbeing Enterprises, the HCP began a programme to coproduce the Social Value Charter based on how those living and working in the system defined social value. This included engagement with voluntary, charity, faith and social enterprise organisations to ensure everyone’s voice was heard from the outset. This co-production approach has become fully embedded in ongoing work.

The resulting Social Value Charter outlines the overall vision for social value with a Social Value Outcomes Framework to measure social value across the system. The supporting Social Value Award provides a quality framework and ‘mark’ enabling organisations to demonstrate a tangible commitment to the charter. The award lasts for five years and is helping to embed social value principles across the integrated care system (ICS).

Recipients benefit from being part of a positive movement to improve sustainability, as well as practical benefits. These include attracting and retaining staff by providing better working conditions and pay, as well as accessing contracts because they meet or exceed the social value commitments now required in most public sector tenders.

Building an anchor community

Cheshire and Merseyside HCP recognised the important role of anchor institutions in embedding change at scale.

Anchor institutions are organisations that are firmly embedded in their local area, unlikely to relocate and have a significant stake in their community. They tend to be big employers in the community and make significant local procurement and investment decisions.

System partners developed an Anchor Institution Framework in 2021 in collaboration with local businesses, communities and other stakeholders. The Framework’s five pillars are:

  1. Purchasing locally and for social benefit
  2. Using buildings and spaces to support communities
  3. Widening access to quality work
  4. Working more closely with local partners
  5. Reducing environmental impact

Member organisations across Cheshire & Merseyside have committed to a series of principles and priorities, all of which have tangible short- and long-term benefits for the local community. The principles include paying the real living wage, purchasing and employing people locally in the first instance, and setting out and implementing a Net Zero plan by 2040.

As with the Social Value Charter, these principles and priorities were coproduced with businesses, voluntary, charity and faith groups, and developed in line with the Marmot principles to help reduce health inequalities.

The first signatories to the Charter were the Chair and Chief Executive of NHS Cheshire and Merseyside Integrated Care Board (ICB) – setting a strong signal of senior leadership support and buy-in to the approach. Public, voluntary and private sector organisations have been encouraged to sign up to the charter, demonstrating their commitment to a movement that aims to improve the quality of life and economic growth for the local community.  


Over 80 organisations have signed up to the Social Value Charter, with approximately 70 successfully achieving the Social Value Award.

And 15 organisations in Cheshire and Merseyside – across the NHS, voluntary, public and private sector – have signed up to the Anchor Institution Framework, all of whom have a collective interest in seeing their local area improve. A performance dashboard has been developed to enable participants to track and benchmark their performance and evidence the collective impact of the framework.

A bi-annual Anchor Assembly, chaired by the ICB, was launched on 12 July 2023 – the first of its kind in the country – bringing together senior representatives from all signatories to share progress, learning and next steps, and maintain accountability.

Together, these activities have galvanised individuals and organisations into a movement for change where considering social benefit becomes the norm.

Leaders are developing a better appreciation of what is important to local communities. And they are deepening their understanding of how some decisions and processes can have unintended consequences on the community. This influences their decision-making, making it more likely that benefits will be seen in the community.  

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