Securing a recovery built on sustainability and social value
The recovery from coronavirus poses huge challenges for local authorities. But it also provides an opportunity to build back better and greener...
Securing a recovery built on social value and sustainability
The correct pathway
Ensuring we still focus on doing things right
The recovery from coronavirus poses huge challenges for local authorities. But it also provides an opportunity: an opportunity to build back better, with initiatives and policies to support greener, healthier, and more inclusive growth.
Civic leaders contending with the economic fallout of the pandemic must ensure that the limited spending capacity they do have elicits maximum impact.
In particular, the imperative to support disadvantaged communities and younger people could not be clearer. Both groups have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.
COVID-19 has had a disproportionately severe effect on young people at the earliest stages of their career and those working in roles which cannot be carried out from home.
A balanced recovery will require the public sector development pound to result in more than just bricks and mortar; it must provide the stimulus for rewarding, future-proof local jobs and training opportunities.
A Central Government update to the Social Value Act of 2012 which has just come into force mandates all major procurements must explicitly evaluate social value, rather than simply consider it.
The focus is clearly to reduce inequality and address the climate emergency.
Southampton City Council is ahead of the curve. It already appraises social value across all spend over £5,000.
Its Southampton Pound initiative, which aimed to ensure money spent within the city region boosted local businesses, and its Green City Charter, which sets out a vision to be carbon neutral by the end of the decade, were both recognised as progressive and ambitious pre-pandemic.
Do you believe we will build back better post COVID?
- Absolutely, we have found opportunities already!
- Yes, but it will a tough road ahead...
This roundtable gathered senior council officials and industry leaders from within the built environment to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted the approach to social value and sustainability, and what opportunity the chance to reset and rebalance provides.
Around the virtual table
Christopher Hammond | Leader of Southampton City Council, Cliff Kinch | Morgan Sindall Construction, Kate Martin | Southampton City Council, Louise Townsend | Morgan Sindall Construction, Paul Paskins | Southampton City Council, Tony Boyle | Boyle and Summers Architects, Tom Balme | Faithful + Gould, Marie Donnarumma | Morgan Sindall Construction, Cllr Steve Leggett | Southampton City Council, Paul Barton | Southampton City Council, David Perkins | AKS Ward, Dave Ramsey | Vail Williams
COVID as a catalyst for structural change
The roundtable began with discussion of whether the council’s focus had been altered due to the pandemic; and if the green agenda was still the priority it had been at the start of 2020.
COVID is catalysing action on both agendas. It’s important to remember that we can’t consider economic growth and carbon reduction as two separate goals. They are inherently linked. The way the economy is managed during the recovery, and the way we respond to climate emergency – and the skills and training required to address both – can’t be considered in isolation.
There was a consensus that COVID-19 had accelerated structural changes. Shifts which might have taken a decade have occurred in 10 months. Several attendees highlighted the fact that Southampton, like many city regions, was heavily dependent on retail and leisure.
With the latter the most heavily impacted by lockdowns, and the former suffering from changing shopping habits and the decline of the highstreets, everyone at the table agreed that there was a real imperative to secure future-proof careers for people.
The Southampton Pound initiative, which is built around maximising the value of public spending in the city region and channelling it through local businesses was universally seen as crucial to inclusive economic growth:
We currently have 43% of public spend routed through businesses based in Southampton – and more than half of it is through SMEs. That's a good start, but we need to collectively drive those figures up. In construction, it’s incumbent on the main contractors we choose to work with to make that happen.
Southampton’s first all-through school, St Mark’s, which is being built by Morgan Sindall Construction was cited as an exemplar project, with £11 million of its value procured to date awarded through packages to local subcontractors.
The challenges of the last year have caused us to look at the mechanics of the policy and how we engage with businesses on it.
St Mark's School,
Southampton’s Social Value and Green City Procurement Policy was launched just before the pandemic began to unfold in the UK. Commenting on its importance in the recovery, one person said:
“The challenges of the last year have caused us to look at the mechanics of the policy and how we engage with businesses on it.
What we have seen is that the most progressive businesses are embracing the spirit of social value and sustainability-led procurement practices, not just the letter of it.”
They continued: “We’re the largest landlord, energy user and vehicle owner in the city region and have a budget of £300 million.
We don’t just want a few sustainability bells and whistles – we want a fundamental reset; for businesses not just to meet our expectations but exceed them.
That gives you a lot of levers to pull and scope to effect real change in multiple areas of procurement.
We're in this, together
Earlier collaboration, partnership beyond projects
The discussion turned to the practical realities of achieving local spend, employment and carbon reduction targets.
One attendee raised the issue of whether there was wide enough communication of these targets and if the variance between local authorities’ requirements made it harder for SMEs to secure work.
It becomes very difficult to achieve the greatest levels of carbon reduction, or meaningful, targeted social value outcomes, without bringing everyone around the table at the earliest possible stage. For example, when you do that you can look to share materials across projects and batch source them, greatly reducing embodied carbon during construction.
Responding, another participant said: “It’s an important point, because it can’t just be the large well-sourced businesses which engage with the green agenda or social value commitments. We need buy-in from everyone to progress in both areas.
SMEs in local supply chains may be focused on simply keeping the lights on in these challenging trading conditions.
They need the support to upskill where necessary and be able to view the targets in a positive, aspirational light, not as a barrier to working on public sector projects.”
Everyone agreed that early engagement on project pipelines, and ongoing partnerships with the supply chain, were key to ensuring that main contractors and SMEs had visibility of work and an understanding of the long-term investment in training and technology required.
Future skills and green careers
Building on the discussion around supply chain skills, the conversation turned to whether a rate-limiting factor in sustainable construction was a shortage of green skills.
Another explained that it was an area being address but that there was work to do: “As a business, we’re working with 45 young people aged between 16 and 24 through the Kick Start job placement programme.
We have structured all of the work experience around digital construction, carbon assessment and other novel green skills and the engagement and enthusiasm have been incredible.”
Southampton City Council recently became the first unitary council in the UK to agree a new locally focused partnership agreement with the Department for Work and Pensions.
Green skills are wide ranging
in the industry
We need to create new opportunities, particularly for younger generations who’ve suffered the brunt of the job cuts in retail and leisure. But there is a sense of serendipity here and I’d ask are we harnessing it? In Generation Z, we have a cohort more engaged with sustainability than ever before, but are we signposting them to the green courses and jobs which would secure rewarding careers?
It will see the government department work with the council to fund targeted employment initiatives, and several at the table agreed that green skills should be a focus for future-proof careers.
Where is your business on its green skills journey?
- We haven't yet started
- We've started looking at how we upskill
- We have a formal programme in place
- We're ahead of the curve - green skills is top priority for us
Tell the story
Leaving a legacy beyond numbers
The question of how to measure and report progress on both carbon reduction and wider social value outcomes generated interest towards the end of the discussion.
One attendee said: “The adage of what gets measured gets managed holds true on both fronts. The sophistication of carbon reduction measurements is increasing and the various calculators used to quantify social value are important too.
We need to get better at telling the human stories – the 'so what' – behind lots of the noteworthy initiatives going on in the built environment. It is easy to become focused on the numbers because they’re evaluated for KPIs, but we collectively need to capture the qualitative benefits too.
Another agreed: “We need to get better at telling the human stories – the 'so what' – behind lots of the noteworthy initiatives going on in the built environment.It is easy to become focused on the numbers because they’re evaluated for KPIs, but we collectively need to capture the qualitative benefits too.”
One idea which received universal backing was for a joint training hub, backed by businesses working in the city through the Southampton Pound, which would facilitate job sharing and take some responsibility for adult education.
It is easy to become cynical about monetising social value. The figures are important, but they’ll be lost on the majority of the public.
The goal would be to shape courses around specific business needs, particularly in relation to sustainability.
Key to success would be encouraging the people trained or employed through the hub to form an alumni; to be vocal advocates for the concept of local businesses co-funding and shaping tailored local training and employment opportunities.
Everyone agreed that this initiative would be an exemplar project, and stand testament to the effectiveness of a collaborative, multi-faceted approach by public and private sector to shape a better future.
How important do you think the story telling is?
- Hugely important - it helps put the data in context
- It's equal to the data, but it is definitely needed
- It comes last, data rules the world
- I don't like all the spin that story's deliver
Four key learnings from the discussion
Achieving social value and sustainability targets, while ensuring inclusive access to SMEs is heavily reliant on getting everyone to the table early
Set the standards
What gets measured gets managed; build social value and sustainability into procurement, holding partners to account and the rest will follow
Place the focus on the future green skills necessary to make the 2030 vision a reality while supporting career prospects of people most affected by COVID-19
Bring it to life
While social value monetisation is great, tell the human story: making it succinct, punchy and real so that everyone can engage with it