Creating social value for more prosperous communities

“Some might see social value as the new buzzword replacing corporate social responsibility, and there’s a definite overlap, but it goes much further,” says Deepa Nair, WSP’s Social Value Lead. 

What is social value?   

“Social value is the creation of wider social, economic and environmental benefits as part of commissioned work. It’s about securing greater value from any monetary investment, but equally engaging clients, local authorities and communities to understand the needs of an area to develop long-term change. With CSR and corporate programmes, our charitable, wellbeing, diversity and environmental initiatives create value for employees and communities, but mobilising these programmes to deliver localised value as part of a contract is where social value takes it forward. It covers everything from supporting regional growth to healthier, safer and more resilient communities and protecting our environment, climate and biodiversity – all areas where we are already strong and where our Future Ready innovation is a good fit.” 


Why is it important? 

“Simply put, it is fast becoming a pre-requisite to win work, particularly in the public sector. Bristol Council and Manchester Council, for instance, currently weight social value at 20% in every major tender evaluation and Islington Council now require that every major development proposal must undertake a Social Value self-assessment which clearly sets out the specific social value which would be added. This is set to become commonplace as the UK Government rolls out a social value measurement framework this year, with its commercial teams trained to ‘account’ rather than ‘consider’ social value when procuring suppliers. I do feel that as consultants we are leading in this area, considering our impact on the built environment, place and design.

“Legislation, including The Social Value Act, Procurement Reform Act (Scotland) and Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Wales), is transforming the relationship between the public sector and business. There is now clear evidence that embedding social value into commissioning and procurement unlocks additional value, without costing more and, ultimately, leads to better community outcomes.

“Currently the wider industry and various institutions are working to define the process and approach around Social Value. We are proud to be feeding in to wider consultations and discussions shaping the future of SV and how this ultimately forms part of the procurement process.

In light of COVID, and ‘building back better’, companies and their social impact will play a huge role.

“Social impact is also an important driver for businesses from a people point of view. Both current and prospective employees expect and deserve their organisation to be a people-centric and fair place to work. Ensuring positive societal change for clients and the people and places they serve is put simply, the right thing to do. 

“It is about leaving a positive community legacy after the builders have gone. For example, the long-term legacy for the development of Stratford, East London is far greater than the standalone outcome of the 2012 Olympics.


What’s the aspiration? 

“At WSP, social value is already embedded in many of our projects and we’re ensuring it becomes the norm across the board. We’re even able to build a picture that further demonstrates the impact these projects are generating several years after completion – after all it speaks to our core purpose to shape societies of tomorrow and help communities thrive. 


What’s the biggest challenge?   

“Although not new, social value is still developing and maturing. In bid responses, volunteering days and STEM engagement tend to be the focus for a lot of companies because these are well established and relatively easy to quantify. But true social value is much more holistic – the work we do on wellbeing and loneliness is very relevant.

“In conjunction with our Future Ready programme, our engineers and consultants act on the future trends and wider social issues impacting design. We look to utilise our research and development in these areas to consider future social innovations as part of our approach. We can harness the power of building back better to create world class infrastructure. Using the opportunities brought about by innovative technology and the changing world, we can deliver schemes that meet the needs of today, deliver a net zero future, and build healthy and cohesive communities

“Internally we are already doing some great things – our low carbon and environmental initiatives, diversity and inclusion activity, STEM and apprenticeships, wellbeing, volunteering and the WSP Foundation, for example. Our experts produce a Social Return on Investment report each year for corporate initiatives as part of our Annual Sustainability Report. My priority is to bring these together so that we achieve consistency and can accurately measure our total impact using the national TOMs framework.  We also have dedicated ESG and planning experts in the business, embedding and engaging social value throughout the project lifecycle.    

“Our next challenge is to help our industry peers define what social value means in the built environment. We need to multiply the value created by driving social value through our supply chain to create value and positive impact at all touchpoints. We’ve refreshed our social value policy, and we’ll build on that to shape our approach within our business and as part of our service delivery too.”  

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