We recently had the chance to sit down with Nina Howells, a Commercial Project Manager at Salford City Council, and a true champion of Social Value.
Through its local plan, Salford City Council has established a new requirement meaning that planning applications for major developments have to include a Social Value strategy. Nina was heavily involved in the development of the policy and the guidance to support it, alongside planning colleagues.
Nina also recently won the Social Value Champion of the Year prize, while Salford City Council was Highly Commended in the Collaborative Initiative of the Year category.
We spoke to her about her experience working in Social Value, the council’s new planning policy, and what the future could hold for Salford.
Tell us a bit about the work you do for Salford City Council
I work in the regeneration team, which comprises project and programme managers working on different priorities for the Place directorate – one of these priorities is Social Value.
Part of my role is to find ways to use the huge growth we’re seeing across Salford to unlock opportunities for communities and share the benefits and prosperity of that growth.
How did you end up in Social Value?
I got my first taste of Social Value as a project manager in Pendleton, where I was part of a housing-led regeneration team, which was put together with the ambition to build new homes and refurbish over 1,200 existing ones.
From there I was seconded to work in a community regeneration team, where I redesigned a work placement programme to support local people to gain skills and experience through refurbishment and development contracts. We invited local people to explore the opportunities and consider doing some experience placements to increase their knowledge and provide access to the construction industry.
At the time Social Value was new to me – but the team and local councillors were focused on creating as many benefits for local people as possible from that £650 million investment.
How do you see Social Value affecting people in the community?
I love Social Value because it gives my passion for this kind of work practical application, and I get to see the results every day.
One of my favourite examples was when a Social Value programme supported a man who had been out of work for some years to secure a placement as a caretaker in a local tower block. He enjoyed it so much that he asked to do a second placement!
After that, a permanent job opening with the team came up, and of course he was well placed to apply. He got the job and I believe is still working in that role.
How are Social Value initiatives helping people into employment in Salford?
We run several programmes designed to help people find work and encourage local businesses in the Salford area to get involved. One example is Build Salford, a traineeship program which has garnered a great reputation because of the support it provides to participants after completion. Even if a participant doesn’t secure the job after completing a work placement, we help them secure additional interviews or sign up to an agency.
Salford Employ also offers recruitment services, which employers can use free of charge to identify local candidates who can help them fulfil their Social Value commitments. Salford Futures is another work placement programme offering opportunities in a range of careers, from administration to customer service. This creates a pool of resources and work programmes that developers and local businesses can draw on when seeking talent.
What challenges do Social Value programmes face in Salford?
One challenge is buy-in, specifically when it comes to securing work or training opportunities for people, since there is an initial investment of time required from the employer, to help people overcome barriers they face. It is a worthwhile investment, though, particularly when there are long-term skills shortages in so many industries. Things won’t change until we start to train people for those roles.
Another challenge would be around people capitalising on the opportunities that exist. The opportunities are there, and we can generally link people to them, but occasionally people are not clear on what steps to take or need additional support to overcome barriers and make progress. That’s why it’s so important to be targeted, engage people effectively, and as employers, to make small adjustments that can make a real difference.
What discrepancies are there between different areas in Salford?
Like many cities, Salford encompasses a wide range of neighbourhoods from the city centre to suburban and rural communities.
There are areas of significant growth in the city, such as the city centre, the Quays and Media City, and our Western Gateway, alongside our town centres. But there are also pockets of deprivation, with some real inequalities across our neighbourhoods. Embedding Social Value in our policies and partnerships is just one of the ways we want to tackle poverty and reduce inequalities.
What are the benefits of embedding Social Value into the planning policy?
Development has an important role to play in contributing to the long-term success of Salford. Integrating Social Value into our planning policy helps us make sure that each development maximises its contribution to social inclusion, and that community need is being prioritised from design through to construction and into the use phase.
The key thing for me is that addressing Social Value before the development stage builds trust with the local community. It helps people understand what the development does for the wider area and sets out the opportunities that could come through the development, in terms of employment, training, local business, environment, and community.
Many developers are already doing great Social Value work. It is now about capturing that and answering the question that many residents have: ‘What’s in it for us?’
What might the future hold for planning in Salford?
I predict that Social Value will only become a bigger part of the planning process in England in the coming years, as it’s a way of levering those opportunities for residents. It’s a journey for everyone involved, especially for us, as we are one of the first authorities to include this as a local plan policy. We are aiming to create a joined-up approach, helping developers understand the needs and priorities within Salford and how they can collaborate with other developers to maximise their impact.
Within five years, we expect to see tangible improvements for communities, with people accessing more opportunities and feeling a difference in their daily lives.
What advice do you have for other councils?
I’m not a planner by trade and work with fantastic colleagues in our planning policy and development management teams to implement the policy. Having a policy in place, whether through your Local Plan or an Employment and Skills Plan, is a great start and initiates a conversation around the additional benefits a development can bring to an area and communities.
It’s also important to develop a strategy that builds over time and to show people the progress that is being made.
That’s why Salford City Council has put in place a specific blueprint for tackling inequalities and improving access to opportunities: The Salford Way. And we are sure to celebrate wins too – in fact, we showcase the successes we are having and our belief in this city every year with the Spirit of Salford Community Awards.
Working with our communities and fantastic community and voluntary sector means we have a better chance of getting things right for the people of Salford.
The sense of community is so strong in Salford – the question is: how do we build on that? Let’s look at what’s strong, rather than just what’s wrong.
Nina Howells, Commercial Project Manager, Salford City Council
Is there anyone delivering Social Value that you find inspiring?
I am very grateful to Paul Longshaw, who nudged me towards a purpose – what turned out to be Social Value – that I didn’t know existed. Paul sadly died in 2017, but he was a great example of that Spirit of Salford and would be proud of the work I am doing now.
I am also lucky to work with passionate people across the council, its partners, and the wider Social Value movement who want to make a difference.
One of my biggest inspirations when it comes to Social Value are the people working in the communities, whether they’re members of the community and voluntary sector, or officers working in neighbourhoods trying to develop real opportunities for people. They might not always call it Social Value, and we may not always agree on a definition of Social Value, but for me they are the true Social Value superstars.
Learn how Salford City Council is making Social Value core to its planning policy
Interested in how Social Value can be integrated into the planning phase? Then be sure to check out Salford City Council’s website, where you can find their planning policy and associated guidance.