Group of young people engaging with their community by gardening.

Social value: Creating a tangible, outcome-focused legacy

The new public sector procurement model is a powerful opportunity to make a lasting difference for local communities

The requirement, from 1 January 2021, for central government to ensure that all major procurements evaluate social value is a chance to shift the focus from cost to value. It’s an opportunity to ensure projects leave communities with a lasting positive legacy when the builders are gone.

What does this mean in practice? Social value is continuing to gain prominence within our sector, and its wide definition embraces established thinking. At WSP, 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 but also on making a fair transition, giving communities a voice to share their views, and protecting biodiversity.  

Delivering real value is about defined outcomes for clients and communities, tailored to regional needs. We have adopted the National Themes, Outcomes and Measures (TOMs) framework to agree outcomes with clients before a project starts – it is built around 5 themes and comprises 48 measures. We also work closely with the Social Value Portal to track the cumulative value delivered throughout a project’s lifecycle, ensuring that every pound of social value is fully reviewed. The London 2012 Olympics was an exemplar in creating a positive legacy for the local area, demonstrating that we can make a difference 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, 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.

When Shropshire Council wanted to create 15 ‘Daily Mile’ running tracks for schools, benefitting 4,000 children, it had just £7,000 available for each one. We provided pro-bono services and, using recycled old roads, helped build the tracks to achieve the programme’s health, education, social and economic outcomes. We were also able to add more value by making the tracks wide enough for cyclists and wheelchair users. The Council’s term contractor Kier followed suit, as did the supply chain – offering materials and services at cost.

This small example gives a hint at the powerful role procurement focussed on social value could play as the country looks to recover from the impact of Covid-19. It’s time to unleash its potential.

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