Procurement needs a social prescription | ISG

Procurement needs a social prescription

ISG’s group director for sustainable business, Debbie Hobbs, discusses what makes a successful project and how the 'social' aspects of a project's success are becoming more important than ever before.

What is a successful project outcome? Depends who you ask of course, but increasingly the answer is no longer couched in clear financial, quality or programme responses. The ‘social’ aspect of project success is more influential today – just look at the latest North West Construction Hub framework, where social value accounts for 20% of tender scoring criteria. But are we being bold enough in our aspirations for a measure of success that has such a profoundly positive impact on people and communities? – this was my question to the Best Practice panel at the recent Construction Frameworks Conference.

Currently the public sector allocates circa 15% of its total tender scoring criteria on the combined environmental and community value a project should generate. This is patently too low, and we need only look at the devastating impact of flooding in the north of England to recognise the social and environmental impact of built environment master planning. My slightly controversial proposition to the panellists was a vision where we had scoring parity between cost, environmental impact, and community benefits (social value).

Given the increasing drivers for carbon neutrality and the campaign against single use plastics – all part of a Circular Economy viewpoint, surely the importance placed on the benefits our projects create for communities and the environment are elevated, and the dominance of capital cost as a key driver is reduced? What is it worth to our society to live in homes without the risk of flooding, or to have vibrant and economically thriving communities where individuals are employed and upskilled by capital investment decision making?

I believe effective measurement of social value is key to transforming this debate. If we can’t make a robust analysis of social value outcomes, then work providers have an easy excuse to limit its relative importance at tender stage. Inaugurated by the introduction of the Social Value act 2012, methods for measuring social value are starting to crystallise, with many local authorities now using one of the third-party measurement systems or those adapted by local authority framework providers to measure social value.

This is an emerging science and variations in measurement can cause costs and inefficiencies, but let’s not be too downbeat though. We’ve come some distance in transforming views on capital works procurement, from simply how can we get an asset at the cheapest possible price, to looking at wider societal benefits of this investment. What’s missing from these current calculations is actual community engagement, to establish if value is being created during construction and post completion.

That’s a major shift from current thinking – but is it so radical? We are getting better at being able to quantify the social value of our projects through tools like the Social Profit Calculator and the Social Value Portal. The challenge now is how do we quantify an individual’s sense of the value of a new green space, a world-class sporting venue or the sense of security from a newly created employment opportunity?

It’s certainly a work in progress, however what was clear from our discussion, and conversations with fellow attendees, is that these issues are generating positive debate and procurement bodies are taking notice. We’re starting to see real traction on the subject of procuring with whole life costing in mind, platform design to standardise repeatable spaces, and a focus on the quality and sustainability of construction materials within a circular economy model.

Government in particular is taking notice, and as our largest construction client, this is highly positive for the direction of travel. By collecting and analysing the right type of data, we can demonstrate the efficacy of shifting the focus more closely to societal and environmental outcomes. After all, buildings are spaces that enable individuals and our communities to thrive – the procurement approach must now optimise and recognise these wider benefits at the tender stage.

* This article featured in Construction News

  • Share this article