As we enter National Inclusion Week Emily Davies, Head of Social Impact at Amey writes about how their work with social enterprises is creating opportunities for those who need them most, promoting a more inclusive society.

Access for all: promoting an inclusive society with social enterprises

Being an inclusive organisation is not just about championing diversity in your own workforce. Working closely with organisations in the supply chain that enable marginalised people to access work opportunities is also a powerful way to promote a more inclusive society.

To mark National Inclusion Week, leading infrastructure and public services provider Amey is celebrating its close partnerships with social enterprises whose purpose is to create job opportunities for people who might otherwise struggle to find sustainable work.

Blue Sky, part of The Forward Trust, is a social enterprise that acts as an alternative to mainstream labour agencies, sourcing employees who are ex-offenders, offering life-changing opportunities through real paid jobs. Ministry of Justice data shows that Blue Sky’s model of supported employment reduces re-offending by up to 23%, one of the highest performing interventions on record.

Amey has a longstanding relationship with Blue Sky, dating back 12 years, and has so far hired 420 people through the agency, mostly to work within its Environmental Services business. Approximately half of those have subsequently been taken on as permanent employees and Blue Sky has become a significant supplier to Amey.

John Chesters, Commercial Director from Blue Sky, explains: “As a big organisation, Amey offers the opportunity for scale and that means we can offer ex-offenders a wide range of possibilities. People from Amey have come into prisons with us to explain what roles people could find themselves doing. That has helped us really demonstrate to people in prison that these are real opportunities and there’s a commitment to help them re-build their lives.

We have always had a very good relationship with Amey and felt very supported by the business, from contract managers to Chief Executive level. The volume of work we do with Amey has helped us grow enormously.”

Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company is a social enterprise run by charity Royal British Legion Industries that provides employment to ex-forces personnel and people with health conditions and disabilities. The company consists of two factories in Kent and Surrey that make signs for road, rail and commercial organisations and wooden products such as pallets and fruit bins, with printing and mailing services also available. Each year, Amey has spent more with Royal British Legion Industries, helping the organisation to grow.

Staff at Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company

The aim of Royal British Legion Industries is to be both commercially competitive and socially thriving – 100% of their surplus funds is either invested back into the factories, for example to provide training for staff, or to help fund RBLI’s transformative employment support course LifeWorks which supports ex-service personnel from all corners of the country into work after their return from service.

More than 60% of RBLI’s staff have a disability, while more than 40% of staff are either ex-service personnel or have a service connection, for whom a return to work as a civilian is often challenging.

Geoff Streetley, Director of Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company said: “Our business with Amey, which was first established in 2013, was catalytic in our expansion into the road signs market. It was our first sizeable win within that space and it really helped us to form a solid foundation and propel us towards progression.

“One of our most significant achievements to date is our recent securing of a multi-million contract with Network Rail which has seen us become their sole provider of lineside signage, while our future efforts now look to expanding BBMC into Scotland and tackling unemployment amongst veterans and people with disabilities in partnership with Erskine. This would not have been possible had it not been for Amey’s trust in us to supply them with high-quality products whilst also holding a strong commitment to social value.”

“However, it is not just the commercial aspect of BBMC which has benefited from the relationship. Amey also clearly has a very strong commitment to social value and we are proud to say that our business with them has enabled us to help more people – both former service personnel and people with disabilities – who may otherwise struggle to find work, to secure rewarding employment.”

A recent report by Social Enterprise UK highlighted just how diverse these organisations are: 89% of social enterprise leadership teams have a female director, 34% have Black Asian Minority Ethnic representation and 36% have a director with a disability. More than two-thirds are supporting individuals from disadvantaged groups, and more than four in ten employ them.

By committing a significant spend to social enterprises such as Blue Sky and BBMC, Amey is not only supporting organisations that play a crucial role in getting marginalised groups into work – it is also showing support for businesses that are highly inclusive organisations themselves: approximately a third of the operational team at Blue Sky have a criminal record themselves, while over half of RBLI staff have a disability.

In May, Amey joined the Buy Social Corporate Challenge, an initiative run by Social Enterprise UK, that sees large businesses commit to collectively spend £1 billion with social enterprises by 2020. This is an ambitious target. It is, however, achievable, especially if businesses collectively create a space in which social enterprises can prosper – by defining a business need that these innovative organisations with huge social value can then meet.

Emily Davies is Head of Social Impact at Amey who are a partner in the Buy Social Corporate Challenge.