A sharpened focus on social value

Mark Cottam Social Value Leader, UK
5 min read

2023 is a significant milestone in the social value sphere – it marks a decade since the Social Value Act was first introduced. I’d wager that few people knew what it was ten years ago, but in recent years social value has benefitted from a hike in prominence due to the rise of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and the introduction of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2016, which brought together environmental and social goals in one framework.

Within that framework issues such as reduced inequalities and zero hunger are given the same focus as climate action and sustainable communities – and rightly so. After all, they are all part of the same ecosystem for improving environments and lives, and they deserve equal attention and to be part of an integrated approach. Ten years on, it’s clear that organisations can no longer relegate social value to the ‘nice to have’ category. It’s now an investable metric.

Real success lies in delivering activity that is meaningful, delivers lasting benefits and so genuinely enriches people’s lives, and we recently updated our UK-wide social value strategy to ensure we are doing exactly this.

Enrich the lives of 2 million people and create £2bn of social impact by 2030

These are our high-level goals here in the UK. We have very deliberately focused on enriching lives because we fundamentally believe in taking a person-centric approach.

As a company, our purpose of “pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, in service of humanity” means we retain a strong focus on ensuring our projects deliver social value for the people and communities they serve. Ensuring we have the desired impact requires getting the details right and consulting with others.

For example, the impact of offering work experience placements in an affluent area with high employment levels and a high proportion of young people educated to further or higher education will be far less than offering those same placements in an area where young people have fewer career opportunities. That’s why we establish dialogue with local organisations with people on-the-ground and tailor our programmes carefully, so the benefit of our work is felt far beyond a project end date.

While delivering the new Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Liverpool  we worked with a cross section of groups that represented community interests, including Liverpool In Work, the local NHS Trust, Liverpool City College, local councillors and trade unions. By creating a working group, we ensured our social value strategy was meeting the needs of local people.

Communities don’t want organisations to cherry pick what they offer in their area as part of an ESG ‘tick box’ exercise. They have an important stake in helping guide companies to provide help where it’s needed most. That’s how the biggest impacts are made.

We run an employability programme across a number of our projects combining an insight into the various career options available within construction with practical and ‘soft’ skill development. The programme is designed for participants that have found employment difficult, for example those who may have been unemployed for a long time, prison leavers, or people with disabilities.

There are guaranteed job opportunities for those ready for employment at the end of the course. One of the elements people find most useful is the chance for attendees to speak to our colleagues who  have been through the programme themselves. This kind of peer dialogue is invaluable, and frequently as inspiring as the course itself.

Making tangible progress

A measurable element of our goal is to create £2bn of social impact within the UK by 2030. We believe in a data-driven, transparent approach. Our partnership with social value specialists Thrive enables us to report the progress we’re making at a detailed level across all projects, and pinpoint where there are opportunities to do more.

Each programme or activity we deliver uses industry standard value measures that we report. This enables us to track progress towards our £2bn goal, project by project and cumulatively. It also helps us to set appropriate goals by project, working with and advising clients on how we will deliver maximum impact.

Collaboration is central to a successful social value programme. Understanding community dynamics and working with the groups and specialist partners that know that region best will help deliver the most meaningful results for any given project.

Our partnerships with the likes of Social Value UK and the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability help us to share our learning and expand our thinking. We also collaborate with industry peers and other social value experts to help shape industry change, including a drive for consistent high standards of measurement and evaluation.  For instance, we sit on Thrive’s committee for Impact Evaluation Standards and on the NHS’ ProCure23 Social Value Working Group, where we help drive social value action.

Moving forward

It may be a long time since the Social Value Act was first implemented, but the pace of acceleration in recent years is encouraging. As a construction partner responsible for delivering some of the UK’s vital buildings and infrastructure, we work right in the heart of local communities to build projects that serve humanity. They enable friends and family to connect, they provide the healthcare facilities so vital to residents, world-class education, science and research facilities in which to advance our knowledge and the low carbon energy infrastructure needed to heat our homes and power our businesses. We see first-hand the difference that can be made and making businesses more responsible for delivering social value can only be a good thing.