Joy Woods on Social Value and North West Construction Hub

ISG Senior Sustainability and Social Value Manager, Joy Woods, recently spoke to us regarding the past, present and future of social value for the Hub and the wider construction industry.

What are your memories of how social value was in the Hub and in your business during the earlier years?

In terms of the Hub, social value has always been embedded in the core Hub principles right from the start. There have been social value targets since inception around community and some of the breadth of targets we are used to within social value. However, it’s fair to say that within contractors and the Hub, there was always a focus around outputs. For example, numbers of apprentices and work placements. The focus has shifted in the last 5 years, in particular towards outcomes, impact measurement and collaboration. Collaboration has always been critical to the Hub and they have been the forerunner in driving this agenda with contractor partners and clients. This was embedded into the ethos and work of the Special Interest Groups (SIGs), which was quite a fresh approach at the time. 

How has social value evolved in the construction sector over the last 10 years? 

Social value has changed quite a lot in the last 10 years. There have been changes in legislation, more recently with The Social Value Act (2012) and the PPN0620 note. It is constantly evolving from a legal and central government perspective as well as from the client perspective.  

Clients’ understanding, particularly in the public sector, around social value expectations has changed substantially. NWCH and their contractor partners have evolved with this. From outputs to outcomes, with the need to report social, economic and environmental value and express it in different ways. Like the Hub, ISG has been using the Social Value Portal to demonstrate these outcomes value for clients. 

There has been an increased understanding of the broader spectrum of social value.  For example, many Hub contractors use community insights and demographic data, with a lot of early engagement with communities to understand their needs around social value. There has also been a change around culture with a cultural shift taking place over the last decade within the Hub which is evidenced with a deeper understanding and alignment of delivering social value attuned to the clients and community needs. 

What would you say are the Hub’s strengths in relation to social value? 

The Hub’s mature approach to social value is a huge strength and benefit, with it being a main focus and a driving factor for many years. This means it is embedded within the NWCH principles and delivered with rigour, consistency and quality of approach to social value which comes right from early client engagement and tender stages.  

It is evident in the conversations had with clients at the pre-tender and development stages, as well as when we speak to clients who use the Hub, that social value is threaded through at every single stage through to delivery. There is a lot of support offered to clients from the Hub and contractors, again showing the commitment to collaboration.  

A great example would be the Blue Light Workshop that took place for blue light clients and organisations across the North West. We really delved deep to understand the blue light sector and what the social value priorities are for them and their projects. This focus on understanding the needs of clients really helps to set the Hub apart. 

The Hub truly understand their public sector clients; how they work and what makes them tick. That comes through in the support that the Hub offers. The collaboration element is more than just the Special Interest Groups, and the Hub encourages contractors and clients to work together to overcome shared challenges.

How do you see the future of social value progressing in general for the Hub? 

There has always been a focus on engaging with supply chain partners and supporting them, but now more than ever with COVID-19 and the challenges that supply chain partners have faced, there is a desire and a space to think about what is needed to support them further to grow and improve resilience. Another key focus moving forward will be the support that NWCH and contractor partners can give in relation to diversity and inclusion and reducing carbon emissions. These are perfect examples of shared challenges and opportunities for us all.

There will always be a resource from Hub contractors to engage with and support clients from an early stage, and to collaborate and provide insight to clients around their thinking and maturity on social value. We see the different ways that clients set their aspirations for social value in tenders, and some clients are really giving a focus to specific community priorities, and even providing contacts for stakeholders. Over time I envisage that, as social value embeds itself as a priority for procurement teams, we will witness this type of approach taking place more often. I certainly feel that we will continue to see an increase in the percentage score given to social value and sustainability in tenders. This may come off the back of the Construction Playbook and the PPN, but it is definitely still rising up the agenda of many clients. The Hub and contractors are more than ready to respond to that additional desire. 

Lastly, that connection between wider sustainability and social value. In particular, the Hub are doing some magnificent work around connecting to the net zero carbon agenda which is rightly top of the list for many clients in the public sector and beyond. There are some great opportunities to further explore how we can connect social value and the carbon agenda, and ISG is passionate about ensuring that we work collaboratively with Hub partners to share good practice and create carbon reduction positive outcomes.

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