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  • 7 minutes
  • 27/05/2022

Social value people: Michelle McCann of NHS London Procurement Partnership

Part of our 'Social value people' series. For our inaugural edition, we sat down with Michelle McCann, Executive Director of Sustainability and Social Value at NHS London Procurement Partnership.

‘Social value people’ is a new content series that speaks to influential figures in the social value movement. They’ll describe their own social value journey, as well as offer insights and advice on how others can maximise the value they create.

For our inaugural edition, we sat down with Michelle McCann. Michelle is Executive Director of Sustainability and Social Value at NHS London Procurement Partnership. She’s contributed a huge amount to the social value movement across a long and varied career, initially working in finance and education, and now heading up a team tasked with creating more sustainable procurement practice within the National Health Service in London. 

So Michelle, what does social value mean to you?

To me, social value is outward-facing into the community. It’s being able to improve the outlook for a community, for example through employment or education opportunities. There’s the old parable that says whilst you can give somebody a fish to resolve their immediate hunger, if you teach them to fish, then it’s a lot more sustainable. Social value can provide opportunities for  people who may be marginalised or disadvantaged in some way.

And what led you to pursue a career in social value?

I was working at the Medical Research Council, a non-departmental government body  that funds research at the forefront of science to prevent illness, and improve human health.in the UK working as a Strategic Planning Manager.

During my time there, the chief executive predicted the UK was heading for both a mental health and dementia crisis in the next decade. This got me thinking about society and wellbeing and something was awakened in me that I have carried throughout the rest of my career.

I worked with the Medical Research Council for about eleven years. This gave me lots of opportunities to “unofficially” see what suppliers could include as added or social value as part of their contracts.

I then moved to Goldsmiths University where I was the Head of Procurement. Goldsmiths was a university that wanted to be greener, which meant I could introduce more sustainability and social value into the work we were doing there.

After that, I took a job at the NHS London Procurement Partnership as Category Director for the estates, facilities and professional services workstream. The three-year strategy I created for the workstream was heavily influenced by sustainability and social value and decarbonising the estate before the NHS had developed its roadmap to net-zero. Once the NHS roadmap was developed, NHS LPP saw the value of creating a sustainability and social value workstream in its own right, for which I am now the executive director.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to create social value?

There are so many models and frameworks out there relating to social value that it is easy not to know where to start. I would just say start somewhere and keep it very simple. If you don’t know what to start with, ask your supply base what they have been able to deliver in terms of social value previously. They’ll tell you what they’ve been doing.

Keep it simple and start small. You don’t have to have the big tools, and you don’t have to include multiple measures because you’re afraid to lose any opportunity. Some social value is better than no social value when you are starting out. I see this as a journey, and while we will probably take couple of wrong turns along the way, that is ok.

What more can the NHS do to improve the social value they create?

I think the guidance is great, and it provides us with a set of health related areas to explore. But I think we also need to provide more support to our procurers, so they understand at a strategic level what it is that we’re trying to achieve through the social value mandate.

For example, we should look at local needs. What are the social value priorities in a particular area that a trust is trying to address? What is the demographic and where do inequalities exist? Once we understand these, we can better target those areas through our tenders. I think that’s the piece of the jigsaw that’s missing at the moment. And it is for this reason I have expanded the team to include a dedicated social value manager and sustainability manager who can provide more training for both procurers and suppliers.

Every procurer needs to understand their region to maximise their impact. It’s pointless putting in a load of volunteering hours in an area that doesn’t need any volunteers. You want to address the issues that are going to impact the community. So I would always try and put myself in the shoes of a resident.

There’s a lot of data sets indices provided by government and the local authorities on areas of deprivation and that kind of thing. That’s a good place to start.

We can also look at patient stats. If we have a high percentage of people coming in with respiratory conditions, we know that air pollution directly affects that. We can then start to use these stats to identify the health inequalities in the communities that we want to address.

Are you saying that creating social value can help reduce the strain on the health service?

Yes, anything we do to impact health inequalities through social value will have a direct, positive impact on that person’s health and, therefore, a reduction in the number of visits they make to hospital.

We’ve seen in the press that there are direct links between certain inequalities and the health of individuals. If, for example, we have problems with obesity in a particular area,  we are likely to see more admission points for a person who struggles with obesity. If we can use social value to create some healthy living opportunities in that area, to help people  live healthier lifestyles, then we are likely to see less people needing to use the associated health services.

What are the biggest challenges facing the NHS when creating social value?

The NHS has a number of cost pressures and is constantly being asked to make savings. To overcome this, I believe it is important to clarify that embedding social value is an opportunity rather than an added cost to challenge the common misconception  that nothing comes for free.

We need to create case studies to show how the delivery of social value actually benefits the supplier as well as the Trust to demonstrate that social value isn’t an additional cost to a contract but rather an additional benefit.

The other thing we need to make sure everybody understands is that social value commitments are not an aspiration, they are an obligation. And once it’s committed to, it forms part of the contract. One thing that the will help us to do is to monitor that delivery and make sure that commitments are realised throughout the life of a contract.

You’ve discussed how one of the key challenges in creating social value is simply getting stakeholders on board. How do you overcome this?

I equate it to if you’re sitting on a train and the train stops. If nobody tells you why the train has stopped, you start to get irate. But if the driver tells you you’re stuck at a red light and they’re trying to get hold of somebody and will update you in a few minutes, you’re a lot calmer. I think communication with stakeholders is similar. If you explain to stakeholders why you’re doing something, they’re more likely to come on the journey with you.

Social Value Portal and NHS London Procurement Partnership are working together to help make good go further across the city. Social