The Social Value Act came into force three years ago, legislating to oblige all public sector organisations in England and Wales to consider social value when procuring public service contracts. The move created a cultural shift, with many authorities recognising that construction contracts also had social and environmental impacts that deserved consideration.
Three years on, however, many local authorities are still trying to define what social value actually means in terms of tangible and measurable outcomes when it comes to construction projects.
In order to deliver social value effectively, public sector organisations must embed this philosophy in goal setting for each individual project. They should appoint a contractor that can demonstrate a proven commitment and capability to deliver social value and agree targets in advance. The public sector must then work collaboratively to deliver those targets, ensuring that there are clear reporting and measurement processes in place, with continuous assessment of progress against short, medium and long-term key performance indicators (KPIs).
The reality is that there is no one-size fits all approach to social value because the goals for each scheme must reflect the specific size of project, location and demographic. However, by working with experienced delivery partners, local authorities can develop metrics and methodologies that can be transferred and benchmarked over multiple schemes.
One of the key indicators of social value for any publicly funded scheme is the long-term social legacy it delivers for the local community and economy in terms of training, employment and stakeholder engagement. Not all public sector schemes have the scale and regional significance of our Exhibition Centre Liverpool project to provide the catalyst for economic growth; however, we must view every new development as a springboard to raise the aspirations and prospects of individuals and communities.
Delivery of the Exhibition Centre Liverpool and hotel facility has made a significant contribution to the regional economy during the construction phase, over 3,000 individuals have worked across the site, with 78 per cent of these workers residing in the North West, and around half in the Liverpool City Region itself. A strong local supply chain has been a critical social value goal for the scheme, not only in terms of sustaining local subcontracting businesses, but also in enabling local job creation, training and work experience opportunities.
Having agreed job creation, training and work experience targets with Liverpool City Council at the outset of the scheme, ISG has worked closely with the Council’s ‘Liverpool in Work’ organisation throughout the programme. Liverpool in Work engages with communities to help unemployed people back into work, while connecting businesses with the skills and trainees they need.
ISG was also instrumental in the launch of an innovative Social Investment Group as part of the Exhibition Centre Liverpool development, alongside Liverpool City Council and a number of project partners. The initiative aims to create new training and employment opportunities in Liverpool in order to leverage greater social value from both the Exhibition Centre Liverpool project and future schemes. Amongst the new jobs created by the project is Hayley Dainton, who was employed as ISG’s site administrator and has since been promoted to a senior administrator. Part of her responsibility during the project was to monitor the training, work placement and new job opportunities generated by the scheme and provide regular reports for the council and Liverpool in Work to ensure continuous assessment of progress against agreed targets.
This keynote scheme has also supported 39 apprenticeships, with 66 NVQ qualifications progressed to date and a positive long-term career path for the young people that have started their training. ISG has also provided 23 work placements during the construction period across a mixed demographic of high school, sixth form, university students and NEET (Not in Employment Education or Training) young people. The company has worked closely with Liverpool in Work to provide suitable placements for NEET youngsters, giving them a taste of a career in construction and inspiring them to look into training and employment opportunities in the industry.
Amongst the statistics are many individual success stories, including an unemployed youngster that came to the project through the Routeway programme, a Skills Funding Agency funded scheme that aims to improve skills and provide work experience to improve employment prospects. He is now employed full time as an apprentice with a subcontractor after joining the site team for a three-week work placement. Another was also referred to ISG by Liverpool in Work. He is now employed by a local Shared Apprenticeship Scheme, and working on another ISG project in Liverpool at RIBA’s Mann Island development.
What these individual stories add up to is a legacy for a construction project that extends far beyond the improvements to the built environment. Part of that achievement relates to the tangible jobs, training and apprenticeships that have been created; much of it also lies in the school visits, the National Open Doors Weekend activity and the work experience placements that have inspired young people to consider the career opportunities open to them in construction, right on their doorstep.
With the recent conclusion of ISG’s Exhibition Centre Liverpool development, it’s a legacy that extends far beyond one individual project. In addition to the long-term activities of the Social Investment Group in Liverpool, ISG and its supply chain partners have become actively involved with local charity, Housing People Building Communities, to construct 32 low-cost homes in the Granby/Toxteth area of the city.
Ultimately, social value must go beyond the notion of ‘giving something back’. It’s not a pre-qualification tick in a box, but a genuine opportunity for built environment organisations and their public sector clients to actively build social improvement into every publicly funded scheme.
Dr Vicky Hutchinson is national frameworks social responsibility manager at ISG and is shortlisted in the prestigious Building magazine awards Woman of the Year category.
This article first appeared in Local Authority Building & Maintenance, March 2016