Time for a grown-up conversation about social value

Time for a grown-up conversation about social value

Following reports that Jacob Rees-Mogg is preparing to shake up government outsourcing as part of his new role as minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency, Gerard Toplass, executive chairman of our parent organisation The 55 Group, has said that while the rhetoric around such changes can be incendiary, there is a real need for social value principles to be reviewed.

Gerard continued: “Social value is something that everybody in the construction industry has an opinion on.

“The Social Value Act itself has been around for a decade now but hasn’t really been fully adopted, but the Construction Playbook has made everyone re-examine their approach towards innovating in that field.

“If you take Jacob Rees-Mogg’s comments in that context, I think what he’s doing is trying to have a grown-up conversation about how we move this forward. There is clearly still an understanding within government that there is positive potential for every pound spent on procured projects, so this is unlikely to be a wholesale move away from social value, particularly as it is a key cornerstone of levelling up and achieving net zero.

“However, there is a serious need for better understanding of the impact and outcomes from social value, as figures are often used up front to try and win bids but are then not adequately followed through on.

“With a lack of quantifiable measurement, throwing big social value numbers around can sometimes be seen as an unfair advantage for larger firms that have the resources and teams in place.

“For example, a large contractor with a 1,000-strong workforce could say at procurement stage that it will commit to using ten apprentices on a certain scheme, while a smaller firm of 100 employees says it can commit five.

“The absolute numbers look better for the larger firm, but you could argue that the smaller firm is taking social value more seriously as it is a bigger percentage of its workforce.

“This review is a chance for Mr Rees-Mogg and his team to look at finding ways to level the playing field when it comes to social value and start encouraging the industry to take a more macro approach to measurement. I would also like to see efforts to support SMEs that don’t always have the resources in bidding generally.  We need to make it easier for all companies to demonstrate social value.

“When a company sets out what it’s going to do at procurement stage, let’s start properly measuring its impact. Government procurement is a powerful tool to do good –  the best procurement teams know this and will integrate outcomes and impacts in the way that best serves the local area.”

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