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A perspective from the back benches: The National Social Value Conference 2020: Wales

Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA)’s Programme Manager Richard Dooner, tells us what he learned over the two days of the National Social Value Conference: Wales last week (17-18 November 2020).

After helping to open the Conference, I nipped out to the virtual lobby and re-joined the conference to watch as a delegate. Afterward, I came back in to summarise what we’d seen and help the convener Guy Battle wrap up the first day.  On day two, Darren Knowd opened the sessions, so I went straight in as a delegate, and was back on screen with the presenters for the wrap-up.

To help Social Value Portal with the feedback, Guy asked if I’d share a copy of the notes.

Here they are:

Richard Dooner's notebook

…And here’s the transcript:

Day One: 17 November

The first day saw the launch of the National Social Value Measurement Framework for Wales, TOMs for Wales, and provided delegates with open-source materials developed specifically for Wales.

Opening panel

At the opening session, we heard about live projects and the efforts of people and organisations to improve social value.  Cardiff and Caerphilly representatives spoke about the challenges they were facing and how they deployed the TOMs to help them meet those challenges. This led to an important point – the TOMs are for deployment and what’s good about them is what they can help us to do.

From a policy perspective, we heard that the TOMs are compatible with the Welsh Government Community Benefit Measurement and acceptable as a proxy measure. This I think, will be helpful.

We also heard the experiences from further afield; particularly from Durham, how they are delivering social value and what practical measures are being undertaken there.

What struck me about the panel this morning was that this is practical stuff involving real-life application.  These are people who know their business because they live it, and they came to share that knowledge with others. As was said, “Once you twig this; you’ll see how it’s powerful. What you do with it is up to you.”

I would hope, having taken the time to attend this conference and to listen; that today’s delegates would want to do something positive and helpful with that insight.

Lunchtime

This consisted of five workshops. I attended the workshop Using the National TOMs Wales and adapting them to meet the needs of local communities.  We saw a report on the deployment of TOMs on the Education Technology procurement led by Caerphilly County Borough Council.  Impressive figures for a procurement of this nature: 17 FTEs, 100% local, and spend with local supply chains with a total social and economic value of £630,000. We also looked at how Cardiff is using the TOMs to deliver against the priorities for the local authority within the national piece. What struck me about that was how little of it was what we traditionally might have associated with procurement. It showed how a lot of good came from a combination of linking up with others and being perceptive about what was going on, outside the box marked ‘procurement.’

The TOMs were helping to measure the local impact of procurement choices; but it was supplier capability, and local savvy in tapping into that capability, that was getting the improved outcomes, using TOMs as a tool. Appreciation of Social Value Portal’s role was shared; which must have been pleasing for Guy. From my perspective, it was good to hear about resourcing to get results.  We need results; we do this to get results.

Afternoon keynote panel

We heard from the Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe, and members of our keynote panel in a terrific session chaired by Steve Robinson.

Sophie Howe asked us to think creatively about different ways to do things and spoke of her review of procurement. Sophie spoke positively of the political attention focused on procurement and the way practitioners have responded to COVID; but she also spoke of frustrations.  There’s great practice out there; but it’s happening under a bushel. As Commissioner, Sophie wants to see procurement treated differently and the passionate few getting better support. I’m not arguing with that. Sophie also spoke of all procurement supporting future generations and being applied through the lens of the Well-being of Future Generations Act. My thinking was, “Sure, we can do that.”  The whole point is to deliver the policy.

Sir David Henshaw spoke of leadership, its role in delivering change, and the sort of challenges that leaders can respond to. We need to find a way of unlocking the pathways; to get the desired objectives, by re-thinking the way we go about finding them. He urged us to look more closely to our capacity and capability, to work from that, and then to dare to break the cycle of always doing things as they’ve been done before.

Councillor Jane Mudd picked up on the point of leadership and spoke about her priority as a leader of Newport City Council, and tasking a cabinet member with responsibility to support the Well-being of Future Generations Act to ensure it is embedded strategically. Newport is taking it forward, which is appropriate for her local authority: “We’re a city of contrasts.”  The vision is to apply strategic thinking to all procurement activities, though the wellbeing plan and wellbeing goals. One example she used, new skills, is a recognised need for future generations.  Other examples were whole life costing and delivering contracts in line with strategies; but this was not the entirety of it all, and Newport is still at the beginning of its journey.  Jane spoke of belief and believing what was possible.

Tracey Mayes spoke about commercial policy in the Welsh Government and wanting to support procurement to deliver for future generations.  She also spoke about the way funding is distributed and reminded listeners of the importance of grant funding and its management in delivering social value. The importance was placed on realising that social value is not merely a matter for procurement; it is wider that that, and for us all.  Tracey spoke about breaking down silos and working together for common purpose. Chairman Steve added that this was already happening and endorsed that Tracey is practicing what she preaches. Which means a commitment to help and collectively take social value forward.

Leigh Hughes of Bouygues talked about committing to change. The private sector needs to work with the public sector. In a nation of just three million people, we have mutual dependency.  Collaboration and teamwork; peer to peer; respect. Leigh spoke of needing a robust way to measure the qualitative. He reminded us that leadership and policy will change; but Wales and its people will always be here and that we should think long-term.

A lively Q&A followed this and I heard some great ideas. I didn’t really hear any tensions, it seemed to be more of a collective will to get on with the work.

I thought that what Jane said about social care was spot on and not unrelated to what Leigh was advocating in construction. We’re better when we collaborate. As Sir David said, there’s more than one way to deal with people. And as Sophie said, there’s more than one way to do something.

Chairman Steve asked the panel to sum up in one sentence what they would like delegates to do:

  • Sophie: Think about the art of the possible.
  • Sir David: Reform your frameworks and try going out on social value.
  • Cllr Jane: Believe the change, we’re going there.
  • Tracey: We are also on the way; keep pushing.
  • Leigh: In parts of England, social value is already at 20%, and I hope we can do that here.

At this point I re-joined the presenters and helped Guy close Day One with a verbal summary and short discussion of the day.

After close, I congratulated Steve and Guy on their excellent handling of the event with credit to the team at Social Value Portal. Well done all. It was a very professional and successful first day.

Day Two: 18 November

The second day focused on practice and providing more detail around the application of the TOMs.

Opening panel

The opening panel was chaired by Darren Knowd and discussed progressive procurement and we heard from practitioners who’d done this for real, including pathfinders from within Welsh local government, STAR Procurement and Solihull Council in England. We talked about practical aspects such as keeping the TOMs reasonable and proportionate to the subject matter. These people are the same as us – local government practitioners who are pushing the boundaries and are tuned in to their localities.

The work programmes and content would be familiar to procurement practitioners in local authorities anywhere. We’re essentially doing similar work of tendering and contracting.  It struck me however that there was a theme running though all the presentations – which was that a lot of this  wasn’t just about the business of writing contracts and letting tenders; it was much broader than that.  It was about the relationships within the organisation and with those who provide goods and service to it.  As Liz Lucas said “We have limitless opportunities to affect our communities and TOMs is an effective tool; but it’s not the entirety.  We need a rounded approach involving many people.”

We heard about what that might look like and what we need to do differently to get there.  All within the context of what our organisations are capable of doing.  This was confident ambitious stuff; but also pretty grounded.  These folks were all about real world application, which came across clearly.

We heard about how procurement professionals need to look different.  Looking different may come naturally to some of us; but the point was that the role is nowadays about organising collective capability for a purpose and releasing it in the place it is needed; ideally where it also resides.  This is not something to be done in isolation.  We heard a lot about working with senior management and professional colleagues in other disciplines; all being coordinated to purpose.

In the Q&A we discussed how the panel were doing this in their own organisations.

Second panel

The second panel focused on development.   We heard how social value was important to business, with Legal & General’s massive investment portfolio given as an example. Social value was described as being “high up the corporate agenda” and we heard why.

This isn’t a matter of philanthropy, it is good long-term business practice at the multi-million-pound scale. This made sense to me, it is a great example of co-dependency and co-destiny. Local authorities have an interest and duty in community wellbeing, and companies like Legal & General need communities to thrive if they are to make money: Social Value is in commercial interest.

Social Value Portal’s Anna McChesney-Gordon reinforced this with an enlightened quote from Legal & General’s Chief Executive Nigel Wilson and focused on social value in real estate: construction, management and occupation. I suppose that’s the thing with real estate, we’re all in it.  Legal & General’s business of understanding local priorities will be familiar with anyone in local government. I liked the notion of social value being a golden thread that runs through everything and that we can measure social value on the scalable basis of place. This can be taken into an asset-based approach and be in the commercial best interest of the principal.

Rumi Bose gave us an insight into the regeneration approach at Southwark Council. The priorities there looked entirely reasonable and may be no different here in Wales as they resonated with parts of the Well-being of Future Generations Act. Perhaps on the face of it a little more modest, but that’s just the face of the policy and not the application. What struck me was the local connection. Local over in Southwark is not so different to local where I am; maybe some of the details are different, but there’s a lot in common. I liked the slide on the Surrey Docks Farm – it looked remarkably like Local Government House in Cardiff, only with a farm where the WLGA car park is: Great idea!

During the Q&A, we discussed application and why it’s not a tick box exercise. We discussed costs, and it was interesting to hear this perspective. The discussion showed that adding value doesn’t necessarily cost money, at times it’s freely given and the cost to the giver is well rewarded in the action. We also discussed trust and motivation, which I suppose is driven by experience, but can also be driven by rational behaviours if we appreciate what’s actually valuable and drive towards it…with or without our knitting sticks.

Mid-day sessions

There were six mid-day sessions to choose from.  I joined Maximising Social Value in Construction, including panellists from Arup, BAM, Bouygues, and Social Value Portal. None were public sector practitioners, which I thought might be healthy for me. Arup had dropped a number of of requests to us in the slide deck, which I noted with response:

  • Update the Treasury’s Green Book and mandate social value reporting.
    Response: In Wales we have the WFG Act which is already doing that and is probably as much mandating as we need.
  • Upskill in both private and public sector to allow better realisation of social value.
    Response: I’m not arguing with that.
  • Define Social Value.
    Response: I’m not so sure about this, because I’d rather not limit social value. We should let it be defined in its application. The Well-being of Future Generations Act does define Well-being goals, which is probably enough.
  • Establish a Centre of Excellence for social value.
    Response: If that the efficient way to do it.

Penny Anderson from BAM spoke about applications and trends in social value, including some challenges and opportunities for contractors. This included COVID-related challenges and it all looked sensible to me. I suppose the message I got was that the challenges identified by BAM are equally for us in the public sector. While we have different roles and different employers, we’re all operating in the same space.

Justin Moore spoke of the four pillars of social value and the necessity of reaching out to people in the industry who understand how it works. This reinforces the notion that using constructors to implement social value in relation to people is not so much a of a burden, but more about helping constructors to do the things they would rather be doing. Perhaps the distinction that the TOMs brings is that this can be recognised when it happens, and counted when it matters.

I supposed that some constructors would provide social value for their own reasons, but are all constructors equal? I don’t expect they are. There is opportunity in encouraging positive behaviours and perhaps in join ups which have potential for mutual wins.

Afternoon session

In this session, we took a deep dive into the Portal. Terry Brewer and Cindy Nadesan took us into the work that Social Value Portal does to support the application of TOMs and shared some useful materials. Heads up: the weightings are on Slide 27.

Sasha Walton took us along her journey at Leeds City Council and generously shared her experience of implementation.

The panel addressed the thorny issue of additional costs, which was reassuring as additional costs weren’t as significant as one might have thought. We may have expected Social Value Portal to say that, but the arguments were articulate and credible. Local authorities would want to check this out in more detail in the local application, and would probably conclude the same.

Conference Close

I joined Steve and Guy in a recap of the conference and highlighted some of the matters discussed.

We were all done on time, and what a smashing conference it was.

Now, to capture the imagination and follow-up.

Reported by Richard Dooner, 19 November 2020.

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Attendance was superb and it was a well-run event. We need to use that as an anchor. There is so much more to Social Value than procurement and the TOMs. Social Value Portal put on a fantastic event, pretty impressive in the timescale. There is however so much more to it than that. More to be done. We must try to use it to anchor the work that should be done.” 

– Steve Robinson, Cardiff County Council

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The National Social Value Conference 2020: Wales is available to view on-demand.