Is the construction industry getting any better at social value? Or are we still going round in circles?

Hannah Oldfield

It’s UK Construction Week and the usual conversations will be happening around procurement and how we get better at putting people over profit.

But – and let’s be honest – how many of us will read the articles, comment on the posts and then go back to a workplace where nothing really changes? 

It’s been two years since PPN 06/20 came in, instructing public sector bodies to evaluate social value as part of the procurement process rather than simply “considering” it (like we might also “consider” getting out of bed on our first alarm or opting for soup, salad and an early night). 

From “consider” to “evaluate” – this simple word change throws down a huge gauntlet. Organisations now need to make sure *something* of value happens, in order for it to be measured. That means understanding what social value is in the first place, making sure it is always present in the procurement process, then articulating it in a way that can be understood by the government.

No small feat. 

Now most major public bodies and many private sector companies will have some kind of social value/ESG lead or team who understand the process and make sure it’s happening.

A step forwards, right?

But is it always working as well as it might?
In some cases, is it working at all?

Does having a dedicated role or team mean that social value thinking is always embedded into the planning, strategy and project management process of an organisation? Or do these roles end up sitting in siloes, only called upon when it’s time to tick a box? 

Would your social value lead tell you honestly that they feel they are having the impact they hoped to? Do they have influence at a senior level? Are they given space and support to drive innovation? 

For social value thinking to have real impact, social value/ESG needs to be considered a core business function alongside Finance and HR. It needs to be at the heart of strategy and process in a way that has meaningful impact and shapes the way things are done – not something that’s tucked away in a bid team, there to ensure the paperwork gets stamped. 

This isn’t radical thinking, it’s common sense. If social value is always considered an add-on, it can only ever provide surface-scratching solutions. And nothing will really change.

It’s time to move from passion to process. We’ve acknowledged that we want to make a difference. Now it’s time to walk the walk.

Some social value prompts for UK Construction Week:

  • Is social value integral to your organisational strategy and project planning, or does it often end up being an afterthought?
  • Are your organisational values profit first, or people first?
  • If it’s profit first, what practical steps can you take to move towards more people-first thinking?
  • Do you have a social value-related role in your company, and are they having as much impact and influence as they might? Could you involve them in business processes in a more meaningful way?
  • Are you trying new approaches to social value, or always sticking to the tried and tested?

Public or private sector – is there anyone out there in the construction sector who is treating social value as a core strategic business function? How did they get there? And what impact is it having? Let us know over on LinkedIn.

The Young Professionals in Social Value Group was recently formed in response to the number of young people working in siloed social value roles – their membership is 185 and growing. Go here for more information or to sign up.