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What does ‘social value’ really mean to business?

The construction industry is inextricably linked with the whole of UK society. Construction reaches into every city, town and village, and so we – perhaps more than any other industry – have an opportunity to influence people’s everyday life: from delivering offices where workers are motivated to spend half their waking hours, to building schools that encourage learning and creative thinking, to providing safe, warm, long-lasting homes.

Construction’s often long-term presence in communities offers the chance for lasting relationships with suppliers and residents to be developed.

Beyond the physical aspects, we also have an opportunity to offer training and employment prospects, inspire more young people to join this diverse industry, and support local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and social enterprises who supply us. Since January 2013, this obligation has been enshrined in law for any services procured by the public sector.

Construction’s often long-term presence in communities offers the chance for lasting relationships with suppliers and residents to be developed, so our industry to consistently leads the way on ‘social value’.

Having this value formally measured in the tendering process has largely been welcomed by all involved. Indeed, a recent survey of local authorities and housing associations showed the benefits of formally recognising social value:

• 71% of respondents said delivering social value had led to better service delivery;
• 52% said it had resulted in savings;
• 82% reported that it had led to an improved image of their organisation;
• 78% said it had led to better community relations.

But the fact that the construction industry is leading the way in embedding social value is only part of the story. I would argue that we need to look beyond our borders and do more to support public organisations.

“.…embedding social value leads to more innovation and cost savings across the board internally.

According to the same research, a third of local authorities and housing associations are not considering social value across all their services. If you add up all these contracts, overall they are potentially missing out on passing on tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds worth of value. So, given our experience, what can we recommend these organisations do to help them gain a greater understanding of how to fully integrate social value?

Broker a deal

Brokerage networks are one solution. These match services and procurement teams with pre-qualified suppliers and social enterprises. These networks take away the fear of not knowing where to start by breaking down barriers and opening up a dialogue with social enterprises and finding a solution together. For organisations dipping a first toe in the social value water, brokering contracts with social enterprises via a network is a tried-and-tested route.

Keep an eye on the prize

It is important that we do not lose sight of the end-game. It is tempting to see social value as another obstacle, and think that social value involves only getting people into employment. It does not. Successful integration across suppliers means it can be more than social change – such as helping people get jobs. It can have a transformative effect on a community: lowering crime rates, improving health or cleaning up an environment.

For example, CleanStart – a social enterprise which trains and employs ex-offenders to carry out void clearance and maintenance – has helped 22 people into permanent employment and reduced re-offending rates with an estimated saving to the criminal justice system of £10m.

Our research shows that embedding social value leads to more innovation and cost savings across the board internally. If you view social value as a help, not a regulatory hindrance, and work across sectoral and organisational boundaries to unlock it, you’ll reap the benefits.

To view the Communities Count report, please visit the Wates website.

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