Social value has long been considered a ‘nice to have’ when it comes to construction projects, but thanks to the introduction of the government’s Construction Playbook in December 2020, that is starting to change according to our industry expert. Chief operating officer here at Social Profit Calculator, Sarah Coughlan, says that the playbook has given public organisations across the board confidence to demand social value is embedded into their schemes – and that the private sector is also starting to take note. 

There is no doubt that the construction industry has slowly been embracing social value and working hard to include it within the scope of a project, but it hasn’t necessarily been put at the heart of delivery. Instead, it was seen as something that ‘should’ be included but wasn’t essential – unless delivery was taking place via a framework where social value forms a key part of reporting.

Embracing a change in ethos

Since the introduction of the playbook, however, this is starting to change. The difference when it comes to publicly procured works really is like night and day. Social value is already of huge importance when it comes to framework appointments with providers such as Pagabo requiring it, but this approach hasn’t necessarily been replicated elsewhere. 

However, we are now very much starting to see that shift from social value being something that must be ‘considered’ to that which must be ‘explicitly evaluated’ and built into a project from the outset – across the whole of the public sector, not just those schemes being procured by central government. 

We are starting to see that the playbook has had a really positive impact on local authorities too. While it relates specifically to centrally procured public works, it has given many local authorities added confidence to demand that their suppliers deliver against the policies outlined by central government and put social value at the heart of delivery. This isn’t something we have seen before and it is an important shift.

It isn’t just the public sector that is making change either. The private sector is also becoming increasingly keen to ‘do good’ through development – there is a recognition that social value isn’t just something that those working in the public sector do, but also something the wider industry must take responsibility for, and provides an opportunity for the private sector too.  

Understanding social value

In the past, social value has been somewhat of a mystery that often wasn’t fully understood, but again this is really starting to change now. Previously, a monetary figure would have been put against it for a project, but that simply didn’t cover the full breadth of what social value means and the impact it has on local communities in terms of things like job creation, environmental issues and the long-lasting legacy left behind. This is probably the biggest change that is taking place at the moment; there is a real move away from the need to monetise everything as we look towards a much more holistic view of what social value entails. 

“Organisations procuring works can now much more easily consider what it is that is important to them and the communities in which they are active.”

Annex A of the playbook outlines five key themes for considering social value: COVID-19 recovery, tackling economic inequality, fighting climate change, equal opportunity and wellbeing, and make it very clear what ‘good’ looks like within those different areas which is a much-needed change that will undoubtedly help shape what social value looks like for a particular scheme.

In giving structure to social value calculation, much of the mystery that has previously enshrouded it has been removed. Organisations procuring works can now much more easily consider what it is that is important to them and the communities in which they are active and consider their priorities more effectively within the matrix outlined by the playbook – something which aligns well with the early engagement of local supply chain and its knowledge of local priorities. 

We know that social value looks different to everyone and what benefits one community wouldn’t suit another, but there is now clarity that was lacking previously and that has already started to have a positive impact. In legislating at central government level, we are seeing a ‘trickle down’ effect to local authorities and into the private sector as the discussion about social value has been brought to the fore.

Legislation to require ‘doing good’

This drive towards really understanding what social value means for our communities and the requirement for ‘explicit evaluation’ of social value is a hugely important one – and it is very encouraging that we are seeing local authorities and other organisations taking on board the new guidance. 

However, if this progress is something we want to see continued and replicated across the industry, it is vital that the legislation extends to cover all public sector procurement. While we have certainly seen many local authorities embracing it, only by legislating will we see changes adopted wholesale. 

Measuring social impact

The progress that has been made since the release of the playbook has been significant and is paving the way towards a more responsible built environment sector which puts social value at the heart of delivery, but it is important that we continue to move forwards and see the industry embrace real social value and demonstrating its real impact. 

This is what we’re always striving to do with our software, ensuring that we work to make improvements in line with the latest updates and trends so that we can provide the true measurement on social value. We’re also looking at this more closely with a future-forward vision through the development of our ‘Smart Construction Calculator’. This sees us working with companies from throughout the supply chain to gain historical data on Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) projects in order to create a benchmark moving forwards for new and upcoming projects. 

The key is collaboration. If businesses are more forthcoming with existing information, and work as a collaborative collective to develop these benchmarks, we can get a true picture of what good and true social value means to every area of the country.

Sarah Coughlan, Chief Operating Officer of Social Profit Calculator

More information available here

Our new team member, Angus Townsend, joins us in his new role as SPC’s Senior Consultant. Angus enjoys eating crisps, watching cricket and stumbling around after monkeys.

Let’s get to know him a little bit more…

How would your 10-year-old self react to what you do now? 

They would be fairly confused by the concept of social value and probably just ask me to get them some more crisps. But they would be satisfied if I told them it was a good thing, and would then run back off into the woods to whack a tree with a stick.

What’s your favourite part of your workday? 

It can be very satisfying to get stuck into a piece of work which requires some problem solving, even more so if done with someone else. 

What motivates you to work hard?

The positive nature of SPC’s work really helps, as does the desire to give my best and try to maximise my positive impact. The harder you work the more you get out of things. 

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever heard?

I can’t actually think of a single piece of advice that has cut through and been defining. Something I like people talking about and often see enacted is the desire to keep learning and developing no matter at what stage of their career they are at or how much they appear to have mastered something. Keep working on those off-cutters Jimmy.

Your top tip for wellbeing in lockdown?

Maybe surrounding yourself with plants, they really do seem to help with the workday mood. I have always hot desked in the office so haven’t been able to encase myself in them previously. It is also useful to start on that journey of keeping things alive, we are currently moving to step two and getting some fish and axolotls (with a chameleon on the horizon).

How do you address the work-life balance?

Definitely a challenge but I think it helps living with my partner and a couple of flatmates. They work pretty healthy hours so I can get pulled along into their schedule and you end up helping each other switch out of that workday mindset. It’s also not easy telling my partner I can’t watch the latest episode of Married at First Sight because I’m working late.

How would your friends describe you?

Socially valuable.

What show are you currently binge-watching?

I would like to highlight some of the hard-hitting dramas and documentaries we have been watching but really we get most pleasure from binging reality TV. Currently working our way through the aforementioned Married at First Sight (Australia), Below Deck and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

We want to hire you? I just can’t beat you at Settlers of Catan?

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off?

It is usually a split between the extremes of spending the day in bed watching tv and eating crisps or going off to explore somewhere we haven’t been before.

Thanks for taking the time Angus. Welcome to the team and good luck in your new role!