Aiken PR

The Briefing

Integrating social value into capital investment programmes

Integrating social value into capital investment programmes Banner

by Aiken PR

30/11/2021

There are a number of projects taking a front–foot approach to deliver community benefits, including volunteering projects to support local schools and enterprises,

As Northern Ireland embarks on a period of transformational change in a post–Covid and new sustainable era, the much–needed infrastructural development required to support it must not only deliver upon core objectives but must also create genuine social value.

The case for that change and the mechanisms to deliver it have been well made with capital investment in our transport, utilities, digital and road network, education, and health and more being required. Despite the perpetual shortfall in budgets, there are exciting opportunities ahead to make progress including the blue/green infrastructure fund, the transition to a net–zero economy as well as the Treasury funded £1.3 billion four city/region growth deal.

But to truly maximise these opportunities, social value which supports wider societal development must be an integral part of this process.

Social value and what it can provide isn’t easy to define or measure, but it can be generated in many different forms whether that be through training and skills development for the unemployed, or through improving the health, well–being, and quality of life for communities. It is about shifting the focus of infrastructure delivery to that of broader social outcomes.

If we can fully incorporate social value in infrastructure development, it will not only be key to our economic recovery, but it will play a significant role in bridging inequalities in Northern Ireland’s most impacted communities. What’s more, every community can and should be brought along on the journey of recovery if we are to truly create a more equal future.

The Northern Ireland Executive has recognised the importance of social value and the need to account for it within capital investment programmes and, in June, Finance Minister Conor Murphy brought forward new policy proposals for the awarding of public tenders with companies having to produce demonstrable and tangible benefits for local communities.

With government being the key driver behind infrastructural development, it is a significant step for the Executive to mandate for social value clauses within its public procurement process.

The change in policy is to ensure that public spending is being used for the common good to deliver multiple outcomes beyond the primary purpose of the investment e with companies building those key social value assets into the proposed development plans

By incorporating social value from the outset of the project, it becomes part and parcel of the procurement, design, and development process. It helps to promote a partnership approach between the government and private sector to ensure positive socio–economic impacts for communities within the delivery of infrastructure.

Forward–looking, progressive businesses that see the bigger picture are already very much in this space looking at how social value can have the greatest impact. George Maybury, public sector director with Dell, says that social value can and should be targeted, with the opportunity to build in clauses that excite and interest young people in our most disadvantaged communities, by creating opportunities they are passionate about.

He says the Executive should consider how social value can marry the passion and interest of our young people with the areas in which Northern Ireland has a competitive advantage such as the creative arts and virtual film production, making it a win–win for the next generation, communities, and Northern Ireland plc.

Channelling that type of vision will be key to the successful integration of social value within infrastructural development and an important asset that can help drive that agenda is the Infrastructure Commission launched by Nichola Mallon in the summer. The sooner the Commission can start its body of work the better.

What is positive is that there are already some projects in the pipeline that are taking a front–foot approach to deliver community benefits, including the Belfast Transport Hub and the new Casement Park, which both from their inception have put the local community at the heart of the project.

The Transport Hub before construction delivered significant community benefits that have already enhanced the local environment, through 1250 hours of volunteering projects to support local schools and enterprises. The project from formation to delivery has a strong focus on employment, training, education, diversity, inclusion, health, wellbeing, and the environment throughout.

Whilst Casement Park has been designed as more than just a sports stadium, it is set to be an integral pillar of the local community through contributing to the ongoing social, cultural, and economic regeneration of the area. Social clauses will offer training and skills development for young people in the local area as well as providing opportunities for cultural, arts, and community groups to flourish and prosper.

The essence of social value is inclusion, it identifies the needs of a local community and tailors the project to address those needs. It should be embraced by all, infrastructure projects can, and should, deliver many more benefits for individuals, communities, and local economies.

With significant investment planned by government, social value generation should be a guiding principle within the design, construction, and operation of infrastructure projects going forward as an important tool to improve society and address inequality.