Perspectives

Commit to social value now or get left behind

The world feels like it’s moving very quickly at the moment – sometimes you don’t want to check the news when you wake up in the morning.

People are having elections when they don’t need elections, and referendums when they don’t need referendums. 

With all this frantic change happening at such pace – and the associated economic uncertainty unsettling investors and developers – it’s easy to focus on the short term. What happens tomorrow, or next year, or after Brexit? Where are we in the cycle? Is the cycle changing?

That myopia hides a wider reality that I think many have missed. The construction sector is 7 per cent of the UK economy – £90bn a year. That’s huge. And we don’t just produce things; we enable others to grow by providing the infrastructure and development that underpins a sustainable economy.

That doesn’t just make us an important stakeholder round the table; it carries with it a responsibility.

At Mace, we’ve been looking at the concept of social value – the idea that every pound you spend on construction could be spent more effectively, creating a better outcome for the same output. That means can mean local SME procurement or using more sustainable materials, or just popping to the nearest school to talk about careers in construction.

We – contractors, consultants, specialists, developers – have a huge opportunity to drive positive and lasting change across society. Yet it’s an area where, to be honest, we’ve been dragging our feet, with other sectors well ahead of ours.

This isn’t just a moral responsibility; it’s simply good business.

Around 40 percent of people who start construction apprenticeships don’t finish them. It’s easy to say, ‘We need to fix the skills crisis’, but it’s harder to admit that without significant change we’re just not going to be able to build even the major projects we’ve already got on the books, let alone the ones we’re discussing hypothetically.

We have made progress on this front; construction is becoming a more attractive employer. The sector now receives far more applications for apprenticeship places than it’s able to offer.

The problem is consistency. Why are so many of those people who fought for places failing to complete their training? Why are they so keen to join us but end up leaving without a qualification?

We need more people: we need them to work in the right places, to be effectively trained, and to come to us with fresh ideas. From skills to diversity to productivity: the big challenges we face are going to need us to change. 

The best way to do that is to make sure we’re putting social value at the heart of everything. That doesn’t mean making sure we tick a box on page 130 of a contract; it means committing to investing, developing, procuring and constructing more responsibly.

Mace has just published a report calling for social value to be formally codified, measured and put at the centre of every contract.

It’s important to the future of the industry – and if we can’t deliver the infrastructure pipeline, we can’t enable everyone else to deliver growth.

Without a collective effort, the UK could face real delivery problems – and the legacy and perception of the industry could be permanently damaged. In a similar way to the sustainability and equality movements, social value is a concept that is rising up the corporate agenda.

This is an ‘adapt or die’ moment. In less than five years, social value needs to be front and centre in every major procurement process in the industry. Will you be ahead of the competition – or falling behind?

 This article was originally published in Construction News

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Jason Millett, COO for Consultancy

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