Hollie Eyers, Account Manager at Copper gives her thoughts on how more can be done to communicate the benefits of social value on construction projects.   


Social value has become an increasing focus on construction projects over recent years. Project bidders are now required to set out how they will provide social value from the inception of contracts as part of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, and public organisations are focusing on how added value will be provided to communities during procurement.  


The public scrutiny of projects and their benefits is also increasing during a time of uncertainty and delays in the consenting of construction projects. While a project delivers a range of benefits that can be measured with clear metrics, such as improving journey times or positive economic impacts, it’s important now more than ever to ensure social value and its benefits are understood and communicated successfully.  


Public understanding of social value  


Copper recently published its report – Public Attitudes to Social Value, where 81% of surveyed respondents weren’t aware that construction projects are likely to deliver social value. Only around half of the respondents would be supportive of construction projects in general, and of the respondents, 92% are more likely to be supportive of a construction project if they knew it would deliver added social value benefits to communities.  


The results speak for themselves in demonstrating there’s an opportunity to do better when it comes to improving public support and changing perceptions of the added value a project can deliver to communities. 


Does the construction industry understand the importance of social value?  


There were several panel discussions and talks covering the topic of social value at this year’s Highways UK. One of the discussions, which included a panel of guests from across the supply chain was ‘Action not words: ensuring social value goes beyond just lip service.’  


The panel gave some great examples of how they are providing social value benefits on the projects they work on, such as funding teachers to go out into the community and provide extra resources, providing funding for defibrillators, and resources for litter picking. At Balfour Beatty they’re also providing supervision safety training for the community. Some other examples include volunteering time and upcycling waste materials from construction sites to benefit the community.  


National Highways Procurement Manager Jo Wilkes, who was on the panel, talked about their recently launched social enterprise purchasing system and the focus National Highways has on social value during the procurement stage. It can sometimes be seen as ‘social washing’ so there will be more scrutiny at their contract setup stage to ensure there has been engagement and an understanding of what local communities actually need.  


Listening to the panel it was evident the industry understands the importance of providing additional benefits to the local communities affected by construction. So why has this not translated to the public’s understanding of how a project can deliver added value? Better communication is needed to demonstrate the ways a project is providing this extra value. This means externally to the public as well as internally. It was agreed by panel members that their social value examples need to be better communicated within the industry through knowledge sharing and networks to spark ideas for delivering social value. 


So how can public understanding be improved? 


Results from the survey showed us that there is a clear need to include communities in discussions and decisions on social value activity, as well as keeping them better informed throughout the project’s lifecycle.  


Understanding what communities need, the individual impacts of a project, and using local data to identify opportunities for social value activity is key from the start of a project to ensure real social benefits are delivered. Regular updates on social value throughout a project’s lifecycle are also key in keeping communities engaged and supportive. When sharing construction programme information there is an opportunity to also share social value benefits, as well as continued engagement through community groups to report on progress against agreed social value aims and listen to community feedback. 


While social value isn’t new, it’s now in the spotlight more than ever. It should be embedded within projects and businesses, with value provided to communities at every opportunity to leave a lasting legacy once a project has been completed. 


You can read Copper’s full report on Public Attitudes to Social Value here – https://copperconsultancy.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Social-Value-Insight.pdf