31 August 2023 | Collaboration | Our Work

Embedding social value

Professionals from the highways sector spoke about the importance of embedding social value on both the contractor and client side during an invitation-only virtual roundtable discussion on the subject. LCRIG Content Director Alec Peachey reports. 

Eleven years after the introduction of the Social Value Act in the UK, the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) kicked off a new initiative to look at how far the highways sector has come in embedding social value and where challenges still lie.

The new series, which is being delivered in collaboration with LCRIG Associate member, Colas, started with the discussion to help scope out the way in which the sector has responded thus far, and how collaborative social value delivery can respond to future challenges faced.

During the discussion councils talked about where they are on the journey, with attendees debating whether TOMs (Themes, Outcomes, Measures) have created a new, common language for social value, encouraging a greater consistency in its reporting and measurement.

One attendee commented: ‘’The issue with the TOMS is that you have proxy values and some of them are questionable. The other issue is it only gives you the figures. What we are trying to do is make case studies out of the stuff that is being delivered so that it is showing more of the impact.

‘’TOMS is really an outcome-based measurement, but what we want to do and what the councillors want more of are the good news stories of how social value improvements have impacted the community and individuals. TOMS don’t always give you that, so we are looking behind the figures to get to this. I think TOMS are good at providing structure and helping with the delivery, but as far as reporting is concerned you need to do a lot of work in the background.’’

When it comes to bidding for contracts, the importance of social value cannot be overlooked.

‘’We put a weighting on social value and large contracts. This can be up to 10 per cent and we break that down into economy, environmental and social aspects. We set high level examples and give bidders examples of measures,” a council officer remarked.

‘’One of the things we’re debating is how much we work with communities to tailor specific requests. What we’ve wanted to do historically is set the outcomes that matter to us locally through a process of engagement but then leave it up to the market to bring their innovation. That has delivered some real successes for us.’’

Attendees heard that embedding collaboration between both the contractor and client helps ensure that effective social value is taken forward.

‘’We have 39 key measures that we send out with our tender documentation. That gives suppliers an opportunity to see what areas they can have the most impact on. What is key to delivering any social value projects is making sure we are brought in at a commissioning stage. Sometimes this doesn’t happen, and this is part of the learning process. It can be difficult when you are doing things retrospectively and can give the impression that social value isn’t being given the dedication that it should be given.

‘’When you are working on large projects it takes an element of understanding what a community needs to help bring on board key stakeholders. This involves a significant amount of community engagement in advance as well. We have a social value steering group where we spend a considerable amount of time looking at what our key priorities are. The whole point is to ensure we are getting quality responses. It also gives our suppliers more insight into what we actually need in the town. We have a social value suppliers guide which can give examples of previous work that has gone on in the town. It gives a flavour of what is needed.’’

Taking responsibility for social value

Some councils have dedicated officers who are driving forward social value within their authorities, whilst others are attempting to engrain the correct principles amongst other departments and officers.  ‘’When you are one of many people within a local authority, you must grow resources and share responsibility across the whole of the council,’ remarked one. ‘’I am in the process of introducing social value champions across all our departments so they can help to drive change. This will mean we can work much more collaboratively across the whole of the council and embed change, especially when it comes to contract management. Sometimes it seems to be the last thing on everyone’s mind, and it should really be a higher priority.’’

When it comes to communicating with the supply chain and going through the procurement process, some authorities are keen to engage sooner rather than later.

‘’At the very beginning of our process, we have what is called a procurement approval document. Before the procurement is actually approved, they start to think about social value and what requests they want to put in the tender document. This is the point where we decide what approach we’re going to take and what weighting we’re going to put on it. The approval document brings social value in right at the start of the process.

‘’Social value is mentioned in our council plan multiple times, but we currently have a huge list of TOMs. Some of them are priorities in line with our council plan and across the council we have TOM leads. There’s one person that is leading and helping our suppliers to deliver on a particular measure. As an example, when it comes to visiting schools, we have got someone in the council whose job it is to arrange careers fairs at schools. We feel that it isn’t just the supplier’s responsibility to deliver social value, we’re there to help them. Our TOM leads are there to point people in the right direction.’’

One council flagged how they were organising their first social value community event.

‘’We’re getting local communities and suppliers who are under delivering on their volunteering measure together in a room to undertake a speed dating type exercise where suppliers can meet people from the community who want help. These are suppliers who are already contracting with us who aren’t delivering on that measure. We want to do more of these events and invite tenderers rather than contractors.

‘’What we shouldn’t have is that social value becomes just something that procurement makes us do when we go out to tender. That’s got to be the difference. Where we are based, social value is 12% of the score of the tender valuation.’’

During the closing remarks, many councils felt positive about the future of social value whilst acknowledging that there is still work to be done.  One officer said: ‘’Things have changed in the time I’ve been doing this job and there’s so much more interest in social value. Education and consistency are key. People may want to do social value in different ways but there should be some sort of consistency.

”New procurement rules will have a big bearing on how we look at things in the future because they will hopefully put more focus on social value and sustainable procurement as a whole. That’s where we should be and where I hope we can get to in the next few years.’’

Another commented: ‘’Because we have ‘social value’ in our titles everyone thinks we do social value, whereas really, we’re just making people speak to each other and trying to educate people. There is a piece around having a dedicated member of staff on social value and I think the more councils that do that, the better. This helps push social value forward. If you don’t have someone dedicated to it within a council, it can get lost. It’s about making sure it becomes business as usual.’’


An LCRIG webinar entitled ‘Rebooting social value’, which is being delivered in association with Colas, will take place on 11th September at 11am. 

The webinar will be hosted on the LCRIG webinar platform. More information about the event can be found here.


To sign up for the webinar, please register or sign in to the LCRIG webinar platform here and add the upcoming session entitled ‘Rebooting social value’ to My Webinars.

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