With over 30 years’ experience working across urban regeneration, stakeholder and community engagement, and the delivery of social and economic benefits, Jeff Joseph leads the Bouygues UK Social Value Team; delivering social value on projects in London, the South East, West and Wales.
Jeff has comprehensive knowledge of the industry and sector regardless of tenure, size, location or value. He sat down with us to talk through his social value journey.
How did you start working in sustainability and social value?
Not many get into social value intentionally, or at least no one that has been working in the field for a long time. Teachers and parents often don’t know what social value is, and if I’m at a dinner party and someone asked what I do for a living, I don’t directly say ‘I work in social value’, as no one knows what that means!
Heads of social value often come from a background of working in communications, or in resident liaison, community engagement or stakeholder interface roles. It’s great that younger people in the industry can say they want a job in social value because it’s now an attainable job with a defined career path, but this wasn’t the case when most senior figures started out in the sector.
My journey started 31 years ago, working as a Resident Liaison Officer on a construction site in London. My job was to communicate with the residents and stakeholders about what was being built. Whilst the construction workers got on with bricks and mortar, my focus was on social and economic regeneration of an area. I then worked in community development and community investments at Higgins Construction PLC and studied for a degree in urban regeneration and housing studies; then three years ago, I took a job as Head of Social Value at Bouygues UK
What does social value look like to you?
Social value is much more than a tick box. Social value is about delivering real initiatives which are measured and evaluated. That’s where Social Value Portal comes in. Our work together lets us accurately evidence the social value we create using the TOMs (Themes, Outcomes and Measures) Framework.
Five years ago, the extent to our measurement was when we said we’ve taken on ten apprentices, employed an ex-offender, or created a community art project. Now, it is possible to register an activity, collect the relevant information and get quantifiable data. This makes a massive difference when discussing social value with a Managing Director, surveyor or client, it makes the subject tangible.
“Social value is much more than a tick box. Social value is about delivering real initiatives which are measured and evaluated.”
What does social value look like in construction?
In the last few years social value has become far more important. In many tenders now, we’re often seeing social value requirements at 20% of a contract in terms of weighting. Of course, your past track record is important, and how you build is important. But now it’s also about what you can deliver for local communities.
As an example, you can give a job to someone unemployed on an estate in Hackney. Giving them their first job in construction provides them with the opportunity to start working their way up, from labourer to foreman, and they might then go to college. They could come out the other end as a Site Supervisor. From there, they could be promoted to Site Manager. Then they’re on a good wage and they have all the trappings of working in the construction industry and they become socially mobile where one day they might be able to buy their first house.
I’ve seen this happen to people over the past 30 years, and I’m still in touch with many of them now. I cut my teeth on the Holly Street Estate, and there are people from that project who are now in high up positions. They were given a chance and they flourished. This is the epitome of true regeneration and added value in my opinion. So, using the local labour market and giving back to communities. These are key to social value in construction.
What are some personal highlights of when you have created social value?
I have two examples, one old and one new. 25 years ago, I planted a tree on Holly Tree Estate, at an end of project celebration. Holly Street at the time was one of the most run-down estates in Hackney. I recently went back, and was delighted to find that tree is still there, the Estate look stunning, and it was clear to see that the social and economic activities had made a lasting impression.The other only took place last week, the Bouygues Social Value Team delivered Virtual Work Experience to over 160 learners. Working in collaboration with Newham London Design & Engineering University Technical College we were able to engage the learners for four days online providing them with essential knowledge on the world of work, a session on environment and sustainability coupled with an activity we call ‘Skills Builder’, and ending the session with them presenting to us.
The power of Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom enabled the above activity and it was brilliant to engage with learners at the end of term; in terms of social value this was part of Bouygues giving back to the local community as we have a flagship project, Hallsville Quarter in Newham.
The reason why I joined Bouygues was because I wanted to make a difference on a larger scale. I started my career at a time when social value wasn’t a term. To know that when I retire, I will hand over the baton to the next generation who can do a degree or apprenticeship or get some qualification in social value, feels great.
What does construction as an industry gain from focusing on social value?
It’s great for the industry. If local people can be upskilled and given the tools to enhance their environment then that helps both my industry and society at large. Now, in 2022, it’s in a contractor’s DNA to be mindful of social value. For many it started as a tick-box exercise, based on demands by a Local Authority or Registered Provider. But ten years on, it’s more sophisticated, scientific and meaningful. CEO’s and other staff now see that it is as important as every other aspect of the industry, and are investing in it accordingly. Bouygues Executive Committee fully support social value and what it stands for.
How does location affect the way you work? What discrepancies are there amongst different areas?
In my opinion social value is easier outside of London. In built-up, concentrated areas, there is more competition. A case in point is local procurement. If a client sets a target for local procurement of 20%, this may be easier in an area like Swansea or Cardiff, as opposed to London. A large rural area generally has more supply chain partners and suppliers . Trying to procure work in a London is tricky, as a lot of manufacturing and head offices have moved out to the Home Counties.
The same applies to competition for local labour and apprenticeships, where our projects in the west and Wales are exceeding targets for two reasons. Firstly, in Wales you have the Future Generations Act. This means social value commitments are embedded in the tender deliverables and are a condition of your order. This is combined with the second factor, which is that a local company who secures a contract in a place like Cardiff will recruit local and upskill their workforce – it just makes good business sense.
“Social value in the future should not be prescriptive and should not be dictated by the client or local authority. Companies should want to execute social value as part of their business plan.”
Is there anyone delivering social value currently that you find inspiring?
JP Morgan, Marcus Rashford (specifically the End Child Food Poverty campaign) and Social Bites, are three names that impress me. Social Bites are pioneers in terms of giving back to communities, they are a social enterprise who reinvest profits to help homeless people with shelter, food and employment – a simple but very effective model.
Do you have any advice for someone starting out in social value?
It’s rewarding. It is hard work but when you see success, it feels great. No two days are the same and it’s a brilliant space to be in, especially now. It’s a great career choice if you are a people person. For example, a colleague of mine in Bristol is mentoring ex-offenders. When an ex-offender stays on the straight and narrow, rather than re-offends, the money the government saves is phenomenal. You also see the value created for their parents, in their community, and it goes a long, long way. You’ve really helped their journey.
Do you have predictions for where social value is going in the future?
It may be a cliché but I want to see corporates be kind! Be kind to communities, kind to themselves and most importantly kind to societies and, where possible, do the right thing. Social value in the future should not be prescriptive and should not be dictated by the client or local authority. Companies should want to execute social value as part of their business plan.
At Bouygues we see it as having a good moral compass. This is the future of social value in my opinion. A company with a good moral compass will succeed and go further, fulfilling their staff and the clients alike!