Sarah Stone: The practical solutions to the construction industry’s social value problems 

Following SCAPE’s report in December which revealed that residents are reporting they don’t see community improvements from construction work, Sarah Stone reveals what construction firms can do to not just improve the way they create social value, but do so in a way that also builds economic value for their business.

Sarah Stone: The practical solutions to the construction industry’s social value problems 

Sarah Stone

At the end of last year, research released by SCAPE revealed that just half of residents recall seeing any community improvements or benefits from construction work in their local community and 52% don’t believe construction projects improve their local area.  

This is disappointing news for an industry that invests significantly in community engagement and is well ahead of other sectors in embracing social value. It’s a clear sign that construction companies need to get better at talking about social value, but failure to communicate is only a part of the problem. More fundamental, perhaps, is that over half the people SCAPE questioned said they don’t believe the claims that construction projects improve local areas. 

Rebuilding trust amongst consumers about the construction sector’s ability to deliver on its promises is a wider and ongoing challenge and until its address it won’t matter how much social value constructions projects create. Having said that, the problem isn’t that construction firms don’t want to do the right thing, it’s that they often don’t know what to do, or how to do it well.  

Here are 10 practical ways that construction companies can create genuine value for society as well as building economic value for their company: 

  1. Don’t see social value as an add on. If the economic value of a project is the money it brings into an area, the social value is everything else it brings; homes for people to live in, schools to educate our children; opportunities for local businesses; improvements in the built environment. It’s not all about school talks, apprenticeships and giving money to local good causes. In order to create real social value you need to embed it into what you do. 
  2. Work with local people. It’s not just about ‘consulting’ with communities – it’s about listening to them, and changing your plans if you need to.  
  3. Be part of the recruitment process. It’s not enough to assume your vacancies will create employment for local people; you need to help make these jobs accessible. The construction industry’s recruitment methods can be opaque at times. Be completely clear about how job opportunities on your site are sourced. Upload job opportunities to your website and work with DWP and local economic development agencies, schools and colleges to develop a local network to spread the word. 
  4. Think further down your supply chain than your tier one contractors. Mandate that they pass on any contractual reporting obligations to their subcontractors (and that they do the same). Invest in a dedicated resource in the project team to maximise the socio-economic benefits and make the process easier for everyone involved. 
  5. Buy locally. Map out your supply chain and identify areas where you could buy more locally. Break your contracts down into smaller lots so that SMEs and local companies can bid for them. Embed social enterprises and community organisations into the supply chain. 
  6. Incentivise your workforce to buy locally. Encourage employees to use local businesses by setting up discount schemes for local restaurants and cafés.  
  7. Invest in community outreach. Don’t rely on the council or community groups. Build your own relationships with local residents, the third sector, social enterprises, small businesses, colleges and community mavens.  
  8. Make data and information about construction projects accessible. Share links to construction updates on your social media accounts so local people can find them. Keep your website up-to-date and avoid jargon.  
  9. Make sustainability a priority. Use sustainable construction methods and recycled and sustainable materials. Prioritise energy efficiency standards and help improve the biodiversity of your construction sites and the surrounding areas. 
  10. Don’t talk about it until you’ve done it.  Too often ‘social value’ is just badly disguised marketing with too many companies focusing all their efforts talking the talk rather than walking the walk. In my experience, if you invest in delivering on your promises and building real, meaningful relationships with local communities, you won’t need to spend much marketing your achievements because your stakeholders will be so impressed they will talk about it for you.  

Sarah is director at social value agency Samtaler. She specialises in helping large scale developers maximise the social and economic benefits of their infrastructure projects. She is currently working on a £260m construction project in East Ayrshire; increasing local content in the supply chain; creating jobs for local people; and connecting with communities in order to create real social value that benefits everyone.  

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