Social Value - A Professional Services Perspective

Jillian Lilico shares her views on how services companies (as defined by the Public Contracts Regulations) can create a Social Value offer for tenders and, more desirably, create a long-term

The challenges I see for services firms include not having a physical site presence or head office, virtual working and not having the local knowledge of the specific needs of the area. My opinion is that while having a local approach is necessary, you first need to understand what your organisational competencies, assets and capabilities are (see Prahalad and Hamel 1990) and how these can be harnessed to address the social, environmental and economic issues of the day. For the latter you only need to look at research published by the following:

  • Joseph Rowntree Foundation   
  • Institute for Fiscal Studies
  • OECD reports
  • Covid Recovery Commission
  • NGO reports on Climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals and many others

For example (and this is just an example), Google sponsors several challenges where technology is used to resolve real world issues such as opportunities for women and girls, climate change and skills shortages.  At more basic level, as part of a local Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme, Google employees cleaned up and refurbished computer labs and re-imaged, installed, and inventoried computer equipment at local high schools (Source: Google Data Centres, Economic Benefit and Community Impact, Oxford Economics)

Now I know that the typical professional services organisation may not be a global corporate like Google, so here is my attempt to break this down to an achievable programme that smaller companies may be able to deliver.

  1. Job creation and apprenticeships might be a challenge. Assuming that your organisation has an apprenticeship scheme or even it not, approach Universities close to your Head Office. Ask the careers lead about student representation from the geographic area of your contract. Try and work out how you can create a targeted recruitment campaign to attract applications from students living in the areas of your contracts. This of course must be aligned to your HR recruitment strategy; requiring detailed conversations with that function. Offer summer internships which include a package for board and accommodation or maybe a virtual summer placement. For the former, you might consider a shorter period (3 weeks rather than 8), for example, to (partially) offset any additional costs.

  2. In professional services, your people are your greatest assets. Why not create or sign up to an existing mentoring programme targeted at disadvantaged young people or adults and/or knowledge transfer initiatives where you provide professional advice to organisations in need? As most of these services can be delivered virtually, it shouldn’t be difficult to offer your programme to a place or area where you have a contract that is geographically distant from your head office.  In a recent conversation with careers lead for a local authority, it was revealed that a certain local school had a volunteering call out for a mentoring programme and had received little response, to their disappointment. Also, some schools are oversubscribed (e.g. high profile academies) leaving schools with less developed corporate relationships without access to student support. The need is there, and your employees could very well be the source of inspiration and motivation for many young people. I have, for example, used Inspiring Futures and Speakers for Schools for careers programmes. The local authority should have a careers lead who can link you with schools. Think big – consider if something that started at a corporate level can be delivered locally (coming back to the first Google example).

  3. Use your own procurement activities to generate Social Value.  This requires a conversation with your procurement function. One option could be to understand whether any direct procurement arising out of contract delivery could be advertised and awarded to capable local and/or diverse-owned businesses.  For example, if you were going to subcontract a portion of your main contract; could that subcontract be offered to a local business (capability and commercial terms assumed acceptable)?  Can you or your supply chain offer business support or business advice to start-up local businesses?  

  4. To address climate change requirements, as a professional services company your actual impacts might not be high. However, you probably can utilise an accounting method to attribute a proportion of your carbon reduction targets to that contract. An alternative idea might be to commit to funding, fundraising or volunteering on a local climate change initiative. For example, if a housing association is providing energy advice to residents, can you provide funding support for a year or so? ICT companies are coming under scrutiny for energy generated from servers – how can you demonstrate that your ICT provision is climate friendly?

  5. The offer of cold, hard cash is an option. This can then be spent on a combination of interventions including training and employability, competitions and events, wellbeing support, combating climate change, as well as establishing contracts with capable and trusted local providers to deliver impactful programmes on your behalf.  

  6. To understand local needs, use the local authority Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and Deprivation Reports (JSNA) to align your wider Social Value programme to local priorities. For example, if childhood obesity is an issue in an area, what can your organisation do to make an impact in this area?

Finally, if you come across requirements which seem unachievable, do consider raising a clarification during the tender process. Your clarification could include asking for a revision of the requirement or asking whether alternatives can be provided. For example, I’ve had experience of negotiating work experience for care leavers in exchange for local employment targets. Other priority groups include those referred to in the Equalities Act 2010, Armed Forces personnel or those traditionally under-represented in your industry.

What happens if you are asked to evidence a track record of Social Value delivery? Think hard, you may have done something meaningful without recording it. Speak to your CSR function (if you have one) and, more importantly, team up with them for your future Social Value programme. As a last resort, an option might be to “buy” some Social Value from employees who themselves support causes close their hearts. You may offer time off or a rewards scheme as consideration.

Social Value delivery will not be sustainable if it is a knee-jerk reaction to a tender. It is a visceral and sincere organisational sense of purpose for playing a part in creating a better world. All functions have a part to play in creating your Social Value programme; most importantly HR, procurement, your CSR teams and your C-Suite executive team who provide the visible backing and championship for Social Value.


Content provided by the APMP UK Social Value Group

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