From 1 January 2021, central government must ensure that all major procurements evaluate social value. It’s a chance to focus less on cost and more on value – to ensure that, when the builders are gone, projects give communities a lasting positive legacy.
At WSP, we have already been looking at how we can create social value through our work. In doing so, we consider the four capitals of value: natural, human, social and produced (or economic) value. Our net zero ambition focuses not only on cutting carbon in our business, our designs and our advice, but also on making a fair transition, giving communities a voice to share their views, and protecting biodiversity. We are Future Ready in our approach, ensuring our local communities are more resilient and prosperous.
Going the extra mile
So, what has a focus on social value meant in practice? Let’s take, as an example, a recent project we completed for Shropshire Council.
The council wanted to create 15 ‘Daily Mile’ running tracks for primary schools, enabling 4,000 children to take part in this nationwide initiative aimed at creating a more sustainable and healthier attitude to living. In addition to the scheme’s many health benefits, there is also a well-documented link between children’s physical exercise and their concentration levels, leading to improved grades and further social benefits.
The problem was that the council had just £7,000 available for each track. To build the tracks within the available budget, we provided pro-bono services and dedicated over 700 volunteering hours. The Council’s term contractor Kier followed suit, as did the supply chain – offering materials and services at cost.
As well as helping to achieve the programme’s health, education, social and economic outcomes, the project used 2,900 tonnes of recycled Shropshire roads from nearby maintenance work in place of virgin material. This diverted the carriageway material from landfill, while vehicles also travelled 4,750km less – saving 4 tonnes of CO2.
We were able to add more value by making the tracks wide enough for cyclists and wheelchair users. This had a negligible impact on the cost because the wider track design enabled the use of larger, more efficient construction machinery.
Our work in Shropshire replicates, on a smaller scale, the approach to creating social value for which the London 2012 Olympics was exemplar. This transformative project demonstrated that we can make a difference – and create a positive legacy for the local area – if we embed the desired outcomes from the outset.
As designers, our role is to engage early with clients to define what value means to them, and with local communities involved in the process. Doing this requires a combination of imagination and pragmatism; we need great ideas, and they must be deliverable and proportional to the contract. This doesn’t mean we can’t be ambitious, though. If a supply chain works together, united by a focus on social value, then it can magnify the benefits. The supply chain for the Shropshire schools project achieved far more than any of the individual companies could have managed alone.
How, though, do you go about defining the desired outcomes? We use the National Themes, Outcomes and Measures (TOMs) framework to agree outcomes for clients and communities, tailored to regional needs, before a project begins. The TOMs framework is built around 5 themes and 48 measures. Then, throughout the project’s lifecycle, we work closely with the Social Value Portal to track its cumulative value and ensure that it delivers the outcomes it set out to achieve.
Whether it’s a legacy of post-Olympic regeneration for a quarter of London, or a legacy of health, wellbeing and greater educational achievement for children in Shropshire, value-based procurement has powerful potential. As the country looks to recover from the impact of Covid-19, it’s time to unleash its potential.