Ahead of the Social Value Summit, Josh Steiner, Social Value and Sustainability Manager at Wates Construction looks at the social value landscape and the new opportunities open to businesses looking to maximise their impact and capitalise on the prospect of effective social value. 

While striving to offer social value outcomes existed long before the 2012 Social Value Act, the past few years have seen a major shift towards increasing its standing as a core element of contract delivery across many sectors. Policy demands and advancements in measurement tools and technologies are not only making it tough to ignore, but also easier to place social value at the heart of a joined-up delivery plan.

Recently, the Our Money, Our Future review for Social Enterprise UK by ex-MP Chris White, called for the inclusion of social value terms in devolution deals and for contracting commissioners to make it more of a priority. As these welcome high-level discussions evolve across the UK’s public sector, there are plenty of new opportunities open to businesses looking to maximise their impact and capitalise on the prospect of effective social value.

The competitive edge

From construction to infrastructure and marketing to finance, social value has climbed the rankings in importance for contracting organisations. What was once considered a ‘tick box’ exercise during the commissioning process, is fast becoming a key aspect when evaluating potential suppliers. As for public sector construction tenders, scoring is more and more geared towards quality, including increased weightings for social value. This is borne out of a growing demand for local authorities to demonstrate effective public spending, informed by data on the benefits to communities. Consequently, businesses looking to raise their game in a competitive marketplace need to evidence their work on social value, including detailed future plans as well as examples of previous successes and legacy impacts wherever possible.

True measurement is on the rise

Hand in hand with the need to develop effective social impact strategies is an organisation’s ability to successfully measure and report on social and environmental outcomes. While a project is being delivered, it is essential that contractors and the wider supply chain can demonstrate that social value commitments are being fulfilled with robust and well-rounded evidence. This builds trust and strengthens relationships with client contract managers and the community beneficiaries themselves, putting contractors in a stronger position when it comes to future tendering opportunities. In addition to case studies and examples of the impact on individuals, showcasing quantitative successes – such as statistics on jobs created and apprenticeships supported – is standard practice which helps compile an archive of evidence to bolster a firm’s credentials and their chances of securing new contracts.

Enhancing this further is a shift in the market towards more engrained monitoring, evaluation and reporting, made possible by organisations such as the Social Value Portal. This academic think tank – and Wates’ preferred partner for our work with Scape Major Works UK Framework – has developed means of understanding, calculating and providing data-led results, including the real financial value of social impact, or social return on investment. Using the Social Value Portal, suppliers can not only track the ‘how many’ against their performance on a wide number of KPIs but also the financial pay back for their client, the local community and the wider economy.

Future-proofing industries

Contracting and measurement processes are enabling organisations to buy-into social value more than ever and are helping to shape a uniform industry standard, but merit can also be found in using it to shore up against looming skills shortages. In construction, this is vital as the market pull continues to outweigh the supply of human resources and skills required to create new places and spaces. At Wates, our approach is centred upon building skills capacity and plugging gaps in the future workforce by investing in a wide range of initiatives and programmes that engage with the engineers, surveyors and brick layers of tomorrow.

But it’s not just the construction sector that needs to act now. Sectors as broad as manufacturing, retail & leisure and computing have all reported concerns over skills gaps in their respective markets. Forward-thinking businesses can use joined-up social value strategies to form part of the solution to these concerns by making it central to the commissioning and delivery of services. Social investment specialists in every company can be part of the conversation to both deliver the medium-term contract commitments to clients, and lead strategic thinking that ensures greater security for the labour market in their sector.

Social value has matured in recent years as businesses across the public and private sectors wake up to its ability to generate added value in contract delivery. Any firm looking to gain a march on the competition and contribute to the sustainability of their sector should look to place it at the heart of their strategy. It’s good business sense all round.

Josh Steiner is Social Value and Sustainability Manager at Wates Construction, a sponsor of the 2018 Social Value Summit. He will be taking part in the Effective Contract Management: Making Social Value Stick’ panel between 11:30-12:30pm.