Gigafactories

Have we stumbled on a consensus?

Gigafactories – Have we stumbled on a consensus?

Ronan Cloud, Director of Economic Development, explores the UK’s need to catch up on gigafactories.

When the  £4bn advanced battery manufacturing plant was announced to be developed in Somerset, the overall mood from across the political spectrum was celebration.

Gigafactories – a term to describe large scale factories that develop and manufacture electrical products associated with decarbonisation (such as EV batteries) – have become a hot topic for all the political parties.

They are seen as critical to decarbonising transport and accelerating the UK’s efforts on electrification. All while supporting skills and generating home-grown innovation that drives a clean growth economy.

Labour has identified around 40 sites for eight new gigafactories across the UK, whilst the Conservatives have made it clear that the potential new plant in Somerset will be a key part of it’s own growth strategy, bring jobs and investment into the country.

 

Playing catch-up

There is a clear need for this enthusiasm. The UK is well behind other nations when it comes to these facilities. The US has 34 such plants, whilst Germany and France have 12 between them. The UK, so far, has only one – the Nissan plant in Sunderland.

It’s clear that the UK has to catch up, particularly as the country’s automotive industry copes with the challenges it has faced through Brexit and the knock on effects to international trade.

 

Opposition on the move

As there is a political consensus, it would seem obvious to think that we will be inundated with new gigafactories over the coming years, with each party (including the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party) all clamouring to extol the virtues of these plants.

But, we could be wrong.

There are already some opponents to the proposed Somerset plant lining up. Environmental and green space groups, working with local councillors and campaigners, are starting to mobilise, putting local politicians at odds with their national leaders.

These stakeholders could cause issues throughout the planning process if not managed or engaged with effectively.

Therefore understanding how these plants and facilities could benefit local regions, towns and cities will be vital in ensuring a smoother time during the planning process.

 

The power of social value

Demonstrating the social value and future legacy each facility could afford will also be key. How many jobs will the schemes create and how will this generate more wealth and further employment locally? How will environmental challenges be overcome and how will the huge scale of these plants be matched with huge power – from renewable sources?

Answering these questions will be important as we move from nationally-focused announcements to the nitty, gritty of planning decision making.

Yes, we have a national consensus on gigafactories, but what about the local scene? Unless managed effectively, we could have a very different story.

The East of England has been the centre of one of the world’s most productive energy industries for the last five decades. It has a well-established “all energy” base that embraces oil, gas, nuclear power and renewables amongst other technologies and national grid upgrades.

 

With the recent reclassification of nuclear power to a renewable source of energy, we wanted to open the discussion on renewable energy and the opportunities within the energy sector.

 

Public Attitudes

We hosted an industry roundtable to share the findings from our Attitudes to Renewable Energy report – focussing on bringing the public on the UK’s journey to renewable energy and future opportunities for the sector.

We, in partnership with key industry leaders on the East Coast, explored opportunities to increase community support for renewable energy projects.

Crunching the numbers

We found only 6% of those surveyed knew around (41% of the UK’s energy came from renewables in 2022.

And when it comes to understanding individual types of renewable energy, there are huge gaps in public perception.

For example, only 23% of those surveyed stated hydrogen as a form of renewable energy while only 16% of those surveyed believe nuclear power is renewable.

There are positive signs too. More than half the people we spoke to said they were interested in understanding where their energy comes from (52%).

 

Unravelling the themes discussed

Two main themes emerged from the conversation:

  • Collaboration – there is a need for continued and greater collaboration within the industry.
  • Awareness and community benefit – it is important to raise awareness of careers in the sector and increase the focus on the benefits and social impact of a project.

The desire for continued and greater collaboration across the industry was clear. This is needed both to build projects and raise awareness of the benefits to local communities.

Alongside the benefits to communities and decarbonisation, participants stressed the importance of raising awareness of careers in the sector.

We concluded communications should focus on the community benefits and social impact throughout a project’s lifetime.

With 56% of people we surveyed saying they would be supportive of developers who invested in the local community, it was great to see social impact was front and centre of people’s minds.

 

Greater collaboration at all stages of a project

Roundtable participants highlighted great collaboration already happening in the region, but suggested there is room for closer partnerships, especially at a larger scale.

This is essential throughout the project life cycle to manage the growing number of projects and making sure projects have the resources they need.

 

Using the power of education to raise awareness

Participants also discussed the importance of raising awareness of renewable energy beyond local projects.

Our research found 22% of people were keen to learn more about how energy projects can support training and upskilling.

This sparked a conversation about how we can engage with the community to showcase career opportunities; whether that be through school engagement, attending careers fairs or community drop in events, there is a need to reach young people from primary school level to those in further education.

 

Generating social impact now

The final important takeaway from the event was the demand for projects to provide real value to impacted communities now.

Everyone at the roundtable agreed the industry needs to do more to engage communities and provide meaningful support with lasting impact. Legacy is important and so is being a trusted and responsible neighbour to communities.

We need to inspire younger generations on the benefits of renewable energy and to consider a STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) career within the growing industry.

This extends to supporting people of all ages, education levels and backgrounds to embark on a renewable energy career. This could especially support those from the communities most impacted by these types of projects, which historically tend to be more rural.

 

A final thought

Early engagement on projects within communities is important. Even at the DCO (Development Consenting Order) stage, projects should be communicating with communities to eliminate the fear of the unknown.

As more renewable projects are established across the UK the industry will have to work to increase the understanding of the benefits and combat the often erroneous objections raised both in national media and on a more local level..

We will continue our research in this area and look forward to our next energy roundtable in Scotland planned for later this year.

 

At Copper, we help our clients make connections and nurture partnerships between developers, contractors, and impacted communities. Providing early engagement on projects, highlighting the benefits, even at DCO stage is always a focus for us.

Do you need help with local insight gathering, developing social value strategies or community engagement? If so, email phoebe.sullivan@copperconsultancy.com

 

Transport for the North’s annual conference in Liverpool took place on 5 February, with Copper in attendance alongside political, business, Government and industry leaders from across the region. The focus for this year’s conference was how to ‘Transform the North’.  

On 8 February two of the team attended the Young Professionals in Rail event ‘Politics in Rail’ in London. The event was an opportunity to hear from a panel about what they believe are the main political challenges facing rail in the UK.  

Some of the key speakers we heard from were:  

  • Huw Merriman MP – Minister of State for Rail and HS2 
  • Andy Burnham – Mayor of Greater Manchester 
  • Tracy Brabin – Mayor of West Yorkshire  
  • Steve Rotheram – Mayor of the Liverpool City Region 
  • Lord Patrick McLoughlin – Transport for the North Chair and former Secretary of State for Transport 

From our attendance at these two conferences, there were six key takeaways: 

Focus on the benefits of rail investment for local communities 

All too often, the business case for rail infrastructure has been focused on its technical benefits for the rail network, and not on the wider benefits for society. At these events, we were challenged to consider land value capture and the whole life value of the project. Placing upfront CAPEX in this context would allow for increased consideration of the wider benefits of the railway.  These wider benefits are not limited to higher land value, but include new shops and restaurants, affordable housing, connectivity for those who don’t own cars, and less congestion because of fewer people driving.  

Rail freight should be treated equally with passenger rail  

There is a tendency in the rail policy world to view rail projects primarily from the perspective of passengers travelling by train because passenger rail is more public facing than rail freight. However, there is a significant opportunity to increase the amount of goods transported by rail; at present, only 8.6% of goods in the UK are transported by rail. Advocates for rail freight need to emphasise its capacity benefits: a single freight train can replace 76 lorries on the roads. To some extent, the government acknowledges this; in December 2023, the Department for Transport announced a rail freight growth target of 75% growth in net freight tonne kilometres by 2050. But meeting this target will require more investment in rail freight from both the government and the private sector.   

The rail industry must recognise inclusivity and deliver on social value 

Transport Related Social Exclusion (TRSE) is not a new idea, but it is back on the agenda. Senior figures within the industry highlighted it as a must for unlocking the North’s potential at the conference. 3.3 million people are at high risk of social exclusion due to inadequate public transport in the North, 21% of the population, compared to 16% nationwide. Transport for the North has set a goal of reducing this number by a million within their soon to be released and revised Strategic Transport Plan.  

To tackle this problem it must be central to the national strategy for transport infrastructure spending. There must be targeted investment in areas that are feeling the impacts of TRSE rather than a blanket approach or equal investment to all areas, to avoid existing inequalities being perpetuated.  

Current and future devolution deals present new opportunities 

England has some established combined authorities with devolved transport powers. Mayors of these combined authorities are keen to improve the rail network in their areas. Andy Street has proposed building three new stations, and he is using his influence to help secure funding. Devolution allows for different modes of transport to become more integrated, and directly elected mayors provide a point of accountability for the running of services. For example, in Liverpool new battery powered trains were rolled out on the MerseyRail network and the new Headbolt Lane station was opened on the route served by the new trains. In Manchester, the TFGM bee network was rolled out thanks to the power of devolution. This year, new combined authorities will be established in North Yorkshire and York, the Northeast of England and the East Midlands. Thus, opportunities for rail policy to be devolved are set to increase.  

Rail has a crucial role to play in helping the UK achieve Net Zero by 2050  

The UK has made considerable progress in reducing its carbon emissions especially compared to other major developed nations.  However, the pace in which transport emissions have declined has been slower than in other sectors like energy. Because rail has a much lower carbon footprint than driving or flying, it is estimated that the UK will need to more than double its rail capacity by 2050 if Net Zero is to be achieved. Enabling modal shift and transporting more people and goods by rail will ensure that the UK’s transport sector reduces its overall carbon footprint. 

 

Collaborating with wider society will help make the case for new rail projects and maximise the benefits of the existing rail network  

If performed well, collaboration can benefit the rail industry by creating new advocates for rail; industries such as tourism or finance will lobby for rail investment if they believe they will benefit. We are already seeing this happen in London where the West End retail industry lobbied hard for the construction of the Elizabeth Line, due to the increased shop footfall caused by the completion of the line. Similarly, big companies such as Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Jacobs have expanded their presence in Birmingham partly due to the improved connections to the city offered by HS2. 

Overall, the panellists at both events were optimistic about the future of rail in the UK. There are a lot of exciting changes happening to the rail sector, from the delivery of HS2, the devolution of rail governance, to the establishment of Great British Rail. The challenge is that the politics of rail are often fraught, with rail being less of a political priority than other sectors such as energy or housing. The rail industry needs the government to keep to long-term commitments on investing in rail, and to reform the planning system so projects can be delivered more quickly and affordably.  

For our latest spotlight on social value, we recently caught up with social entrepreneur Matt Parfitt, from Half the Story, who has got us thinking about how we can create social value and give back to local communities, from something as simple as having a biscuit on your daily tea break…

 

Founded in Nottingham in July 2023, social enterprise Half the Story has been baking biscuits with a focus on providing local employment in their bakery for people who have experienced homelessness.

 

The biscuit is Half the Story…

Matt shared with us that finding somewhere to live is not the end of the story for someone who has been homeless. Anyone who has spent time sleeping on the streets will face complex barriers when seeking long term employment. By providing people with a job with sufficient hours and wages, Half the Story empowers those in their trust to leave supported accommodation and start a new chapter in their lives.

Working with trusted referrers such as the NHS and charities specialising in providing support with addiction and homelessness, Half the Story make a real and lasting difference to someone’s life.

 

The proof is in the pudding (or in this case the biscuit).

As a new joint venture between Grace Enterprises which helps people facing barriers to employment, and Green Pastures, a Christian social enterprise helping provide homes to those in need, Half the Story is well placed.  Over 90% of employees agree that working for a Grace Enterprises business affects their life positively. Employees feel an average increase of 21% in their sense of purpose and 19% in their self-esteem since starting work for a Grace Enterprises business.

One Half the Story employee came to the UK from the Ukraine after the war started.

“I heard about Grace Enterprises as a company that cares about people. And now I see that it is so. People are treated as people and not as a resource.”

“Finding a job in a competitive environment during a turbulent time in my life is a very mentally challenging task. This created a closed circle: the anxiety did not allow me to declare my capabilities in the labour market fully, and the inability to work created greater pressure on my mental state. Half of the Story broke that circle for me.”

She has now become a bakery supervisor and is taking on more management responsibilities as part of the growing team.

 

How does it work?

As a social enterprise, Half the Story puts the interests of the people ahead of shareholder gain and reinvests its profits into creating positive social change. Firstly, as a living wage employer, Half the Story invests in those searching for a fresh start. Secondly, any profit made by the sale of the biscuits goes back into expanding the business to support more people.

Matt explained that they currently have 10 employees, but are hoping to increase this to 40 employees, and help even more people in need.

 

Discover the whole story!

The story doesn’t end there.

Half the Story wants to partner with more companies to see more lives changed. That can be through corporate team experiences in the bakery, or companies using their annual volunteering commitments to donate time mentoring or coaching to those rebuilding their lives through Half the Story. It’s a great way to support the community locally, and create meaningful social impact on construction projects.

Not forgetting the power of social procurement to support communities; buying Half the Story biscuits for company events is a fantastic way to support this social enterprise.

 

To find out more, get involved, and buy these delicious biscuits, visit www.halfthestory.uk  or learn more on their YouTube channel  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HgoE80O5FQ .

Can the Conservatives hold on to Wellingborough or will Labour continue its recent momentum?

 

By-elections have long been a part of the political process in the UK, but in recent months it has felt like they’re happening all the time. Since he became Prime Minister just over a year ago, Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives have contested nine and won just one – a heavily ULEZ-affected campaign in Boris Johnson’s former seat.

 

Next up, in by-election number ten, the Conservatives will look to defend the seat of Wellingborough, where incumbent Peter Bone was removed by a recall petition. While the vote (which was today scheduled for Thursday 15 February) may be lost to nearest challengers Labour, victory for Keir Starmer’s opposition would serve as yet another indicator of just how likely they are to sweep to power in the second half of the year.

 

Of those nine previous by-elections, it’s October’s vote in Tamworth which shares the most similarities with this one. A Tory incumbent, suspended for sexual misconduct, in a Brexit-voting, relatively deprived safe middle England seat. 

 

The latest polling nationally suggest that issues like Brexit have been replaced with concerns about the cost of living and the state of the National Health Service – factors felt as keenly as anywhere in places like Wellingborough. And while immigration remains a hot topic locally, it’s likely that Nigel Farage’s Reform UK will make this a central part of their campaign to woo erstwhile Tory voters.  

 

This seat is not one that Labour necessarily needs to win to secure a majority in this year’s election, however taking control of it here could be an indicator of how large that majority might end up being. Not least because it hasn’t gone red since the highs of Tony Blair’s time in Downing Street.

 

If we see a repeat of the October’s Tamworth result– an (albeit narrow) Labour victory -it will only serve to add to the growing sense that this year’s General Election will see a Labour majority for the first time since 2005.  It might also be the catalyst for a few more by-elections triggered by Conservatives looking for a way out.

 

Stay up to date on the topic by visiting our news page.

Copper were pleased to attend the North East APPG’s meeting on the 5 December titled ‘Connecting the North East: Why transport is the key to unlocking growth’.

This was the first meeting in their manifesto series, launched in the run-up to the General Election. The APPG will be publishing this manifesto with the intention of outlining a cross-party vision for the region. The feeling in the room, shared by the panel members, was that the North East has been left behind, especially when considering transport investment. The group argued that should the North East receive a higher proportion of investment than it usually receives it would unlock a wealth of opportunity and growth.

Kate Osborne MP chaired the meeting and opened by asking the meeting’s key question ‘What does the North East need to deliver a world-class transport system to boost growth, access to jobs and allow the region to reach its full potential’? She also outlined her experience of working for and with constituents, in which time and time again the feedback she received is that transport connectivity is a key constraint to unlocking opportunity for local people. The chair outlined that the APPG is designed to build consensus, call for measures to unlock economic growth for the region, and evaluate and understand what Network North truly means for the North East.  

The Role of Transport for the North 

Lord Patrick McLoughlin, Chair of Transport for the North, was the first member of the panel to contribute. He outlined some of the challenges he faced during his tenure as Secretary of State for Transport from 2012-2016. During this time, he oversaw the £750m regeneration of Paddington station and explained that one of the key challenges with justifying transport infrastructure funding isn’t always about how local commitments or improvements can be made.  He argued that funding and developing infrastructure not in the immediate geography of a region can directly benefit that region by relieving capacity on the railway, making journey times more reliable and services more frequent. Transport infrastructure is a key driver for wider economic growth across the geography of the United Kingdom.  

Lord McLoughlin reiterated Transport for North’s role as part of the APPG to support and provide research on how transport can serve the whole geography of the North East. He outlined how the reopening of the Leamside Line could bring about improved transport connectivity and unlock growth and opportunity for the region, citing the Chase Line in the West Midlands as a similar, existing example.  

Julia Prescott, Deputy Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission and Deputy Chair of the Port of Tyne spoke next, where she outlined some of the key infrastructure focuses for the North East such as the North East Investment Zone, Green Energy Port, Dogger Bank, and improvements to the A690, A1 and A19. According to Julia, an essential factor in unlocking further investment to infrastructure in the region is devolution and the newly elected North East Mayoral Combined Authority in May 2024.  

Mark Morris from Campaign for Better Transport spoke to the importance of bus services to the region. Highlighting some of their recent research, Mr Morris described ‘transport deserts’ in the North East, in which several towns across the region are facing several negative consequences as a result of poor transport connectivity.  

The transformative potential of the Leamside Line 

We then heard from Sharon Hodgson MP, a key proponent of the Leamside Line. Sharon briefly explained what the Leamside Line is. The Leamside line is a 21 mile disused railway running from Gateshead in Tyne & Wear heading south to Ferryhill in County Durham. It was one of many passenger railways that were removed from service as part of the Beeching Cuts in the 1960s. Reopening the line would see parts of the North East connected to the Tyne & Wear Metro for the very first time as well as unlocking growth and opportunities for the several towns along the 21 mile railway. Perhaps, and most importantly, the Leamside Line connects to the East Coast Main Line and would serve as a much needed capacity enhancement, and would enable connections to the rest of the region as well as provide local people with tangible routes and journeys to several major local employers.   

Lastly, we heard from Heather Jones who described some of the work that Transport North East do to serve the region. They are currently researching for a plan that will eventually be announced by the newly elected North East Combined Mayoral Authority Mayor. The plan will outline what they believe to be the key focuses for transport infrastructure in the region and build the case for long-term devolved funding to the region.  

For more insights into transport priorities, please sign up to our Friday Feed, where we provide a regular digest of the news that week: https://copperconsultancy.com/insight/news-update/ 

Learn what Yasmin Halai-Carter, Chief Executive at Ethstat, had to say about the power of social procurement; supporting organisations to give back to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Discover her personal journey and how your organisation can support communities through social spend.    

Running a Social Enterprise to support communities in need       

I’ve run a social enterprise, for nearly twenty years, and in 2018 my husband Bruce and I decided to push Ethstat; drawing from our personal pain and experience to help others. You see, my father had passed away the year before, and we could no longer look after my mum, who suffered from vascular dementia.  

Having always loved procurement and innovating, I needed to focus my energies on giving back. After many years of running a business, being a mum and a daughter, I needed to create. The best way I knew how to do this was to align my personal values with my work.  

Our first campaign was a simple postcard I’d take to meetings with an image of my mum and her dementia doll, and it read, “You Buy Stationery, We Buy Dolls”. It was honest, powerful, and transparent. I shared my story with our customers and supply chains and learned that I wasn’t alone – many of us had a story and we were all touched by dementia in some way or another. What became clear was people needed help, emotionally, in terms of advice and what to do, but also financially, and this is where we knew we could step in and take that worry away. If we could grow Ethstat with larger contracts and buy in, we could use the profits to help people just like my mum. 

Using the profits of social spend to give back to the people who need us most. 

So that’s exactly what we did and do. 

When the pandemic hit, our business grew significantly. We gained some significant clients, and it was through their social spend that we started to be able to share our community giving on a much larger scale. I can’t describe the feeling I had when we sent out multiple dolls and hundreds of activity packs to care homes.  

Having partnered with many amazing organisations like Amey, Vattenfall, Tata Consultancy, Siemens and Amnesty International, it’s scale fulfilment that funds our important work. As a businesswoman, I find our model exciting and relevant in our current times. The challenge and opportunity we face today is scaling this further, so we positively impact thousands of more people across the UK. 

Providing dementia dolls and pets to provide comfort to those who need it most.  

The joy I feel when I receive photos of people receiving their dementia doll or pets and the feedback from families lifts me every day. I feel immense gratitude that we can give back in some small way. What I hadn’t realised then but have since, was this is the therapy I needed to heal and to keep my mum’s memory alive.  

For anyone reading this, please know that social procurement changes lives. And we must all work together to nurture, protect and support each other’s objectives. The saying, ‘character is how you treat people who can’t do anything for you in return’ is how I see our mission at Ethstat.  

Social Procurement extra tips 

If you’re looking for extra tips on social procurement and how to get involved, please have a look on the Ethstat website, where we share a little more about our journey.  

Lisa Childs, Senior Account Director at Copper reflects on the Future Energy Wales 2023 conference, held earlier this month at the ICC Newport.

 

 

Net zero presents a once-in-a-generation industrial opportunity for Wales, and it cannot afford to let it pass by

Future Energy Wales 2023 landed at a pivotal time, with Wales on the cusp of an energy revolution with transformational potential. Key questions remain: are governments, industry and communities ready for the challenge? Is Wales set up to seize the opportunity presented by net zero and by major investment?

Wales’ industrial past means that we are a nation scarred by the negative experiences and stereotypes of major investors extracting wealth, rather than it staying in and being re-invested in Wales.

Even more recent experiences show how Wales was too slow and too disjointed to take advantage of major supply chain opportunities presented by major flagship UK-wide projects.

Could the flurry of energy projects in the pipeline in Wales also present an opportunity for increased national self-confidence when it comes to not just delivering major projects, but successfully leveraging opportunities to deliver lasting benefits for communities, businesses, localised supply chains, and the landscape?

 

Wales: a collaboration nation?

Collaboration was the unofficial theme of Future Energy Wales 2023, becoming a buzzword for all the sessions over the conference.

Future Energy Wales 2023 called for collaboration between sectors, developers, governments (of all layers) and communities in order to act at pace to respond to the challenge posed by the climate emergency and Welsh Government net zero targets.

Perhaps speakers and delegates were feeling collaborative with a welcome reminder of just how important and powerful it is to have everyone under one roof, after we were starved of such affairs during the Covid years.

Or perhaps the culture of doing business in Wales is different? We’re a chatty bunch, with a Welsh Labour Government that places high value on social partnership, so perhaps collaboration just comes easy to us?

Collaboration, partnership and coordinated planning between governments, developers, communities and education providers will be the key to success, and to give Wales a competitive advantage in the global race to become world-leading in renewables.

 

Communities first

We were also reminded that bringing the public and stakeholders with us is key. We need buy-in from society to create the smoothest path possible towards net zero and to maximise the benefits of transformative projects and developments.

As we’ve been reminded recently at a UK, Welsh and local level, failure to engage communities, communicate change, and bring people with us by reminding them of the end goal or the jeopardy has led to protests, social media furore and the formation of organised local opposition groups.

Good stakeholder engagement and communications is hard to get right, and needs genuine bespoke strategy and thought. It is what motivates us at Copper.

In addition to messaging, communications and engagement, community benefits are a valuable vehicle for initial local engagement, and a hook for a continued conversation.

We learned that community benefit packages need to be bespoke, co-designed and targeted – with Minister for Climate Change, Julie James MS, even advocating for residents to push for retrofitting homes as part of benefits negotiations!

Benefits need to reach those who need it most, not just those who shout the loudest. Vocal opponents usually have the most means to voice those views, so we need to not just focus on the loudest and ensure benefits reach those who may not have spare resource to engage or voice opposition.

Project teams and good communications teams need to support those without a voice to play a role in shaping projects and their benefits. A topic Mymuna Soleman of the Privilege Café speaks so beautifully about in her “I am not hard to reach” series.

 

Grid, grid, and more grid

Grid connectivity was the elephant in the room, which in many ways is symbolic of where we’re at as a nation on the issue.

If we are to decarbonise, if we are to reach our net zero targets, and if we are to achieve 100% of Wales’ annual electricity consumption from renewable energy by 2035, then we do not currently have the grid connectivity to do so.

It is widely recognised that the lack of grid infrastructure is holding back the green economy, indeed the Minister, Julie James, highlighted it as the number one issue for her team.

Investment in the grid is the missing piece in the jigsaw in unlocking the net zero economy in Wales. But no politician of any party dares to utter the words out loud of what this actually means: pylons.

On major issues such as these, we often see cross-party cohesion in the understanding that some issues which are not politically popular, but in the long term interest of future generations, sometimes political point-scoring can be put to one side; but I don’t see that happening anytime soon on this particular issue in Wales… although I’d love to be proven wrong.

Bottlenecks as barriers

We have a positive renewables story to tell in Wales, but as I’ve always said (in other sectors) being slightly better than England shouldn’t be the end goal.

Constraints mean that the consenting process is typically delayed, adding critical time to project lifespans.

Wales is not on track to meet its 2035 commitments, unless industry and government supercharge their masterplanning, consulting, submission, consenting, procuring & delivery processes.

Renewable UK’s Plug The Gap report, which coincided with the event, questioned whether Wales’ DNS system is robust enough and up to the challenge presented by the climate emergency.

There have been 22 applications under the regime in the past 7 years, with a 41% refusal rate. Of the 9 projects refused, 44% were refused by the Minister against the Inspector recommendation – they were all energy generating projects.

Copper Cymru

At Copper we have a growing team in Wales of highly skilled and experienced professionals dotted all around the country. We can support with strategic communications, public affairs, community relations and branding & design from project inception to delivery.

We have over 15 years’ experience in delivering for clients in Wales, and are currently supporting clients with exciting projects in wind, solar, grid, carbon capture and storage and re-industrialisation.

If you are interested in Copper’s work, please get in touch with Lisa.Childs@copperconsultancy.com to find out more.

Let’s chat // Coffi a chlonc cyn bo hir?

 

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