Build, build, build. That was Boris Johnson’s key message in his recent pledge to kick-start the economy again. He branded it his very own ‘new deal’, taking inspiration from President Roosevelt in 1930s America. The focus on infrastructure serves to soften the economic blow of the coronavirus and shift attention to building back better.
Say what you will about Boris Johnson’s initiative, but we can all agree we want to come back from this setback better than before. It can be a reset of sorts, allowing us to tackle unresolved problems and make those essential changes we have been dragging our feet on.
There is a way you can kick-start the economy while doing your best for the country and its people. It isn’t enough to build upon our infrastructure; we need to build something that can help us deliver real social value. But what does that mean in the context of this new deal?
Build, build, build
Let’s first take a look at what Boris Johnson laid out in his plans. He pledged £5 billion to ‘help build homes, fix the NHS, tackle the skills crisis, and mend the indefensible gap in opportunity, productivity, and connectivity between the regions of the UK’.
His decision to deliver this particular message in the West Midlands was definitely a purposeful choice as he spoke of parts of the country feeling ‘left behind, neglected, and unloved’. He painted a picture of a country making the most of the opportunities the coronavirus has given us; to make something good of the tragedy.
The plan wasn’t free of criticism, though. While SMEs welcomed the news, they want to know they have a place in this and won’t be overlooked for the big names. And many would have liked to have seen more focus put on decarbonisation and green credentials, which only got a cursory mention. If this is indeed an opportunity to do better, shouldn’t we do so in the most socially impactful way possible while we have the chance?
New deal, new start
On the surface, you could say Boris Johnson’s investment is packed full of social value. If you judge it by the UN’s SDGs, you might say it hits goal 9 – industry, innovation, and infrastructure. After all, he pledged to get industries moving again as we develop our infrastructure. Then you could say this, in turn, affects goal 8 – decent work and economic growth – as it provides plenty of work and investment for people and businesses up and down the country. So does that mean this plan is dedicated to social impact?
It is hard to say either way. Of course, a key part of working towards the SDGs is to do so purposefully and conscientiously. You can’t exactly say it counts if you aren’t delivering something resilient and sustainable. And, as we mentioned above, there are certainly more ways you can improve how it betters society by these merits.
The past few months can be defined by more than the coronavirus. Mass protests across the world have drawn attention to the disparities faced by the BAME community. Black Lives Matter has become a mantra to many. What we have is a perfect storm for real, impactful change as people seek answers to the inequalities in the world. People want something different, and they want it now.
So while the government has vowed to invest in hospital maintenance, road network projects, town regeneration, and projects in schools and prisons, amongst others, in what tangible, traceable ways are these adding social value to those most disadvantaged?
The case for social value reporting
We need to move with purpose towards helping profits, people, and the planet. This deal seems to have the first one ticked off, and arguably the second, but it definitely needs to work on the third. That is why some have called for increased focus on decarbonisation and green credentials. After all, the SDGs are more than the two mentioned before. Where is the focus on affordable and clean energy or climate action? And what about gender equality or reduced inequalities?
These are all key tenets of the SDGs, and each is as important as the last. People want ownership to be taken for the way these projects are impacting communities, people, and the planet. Businesses need to be increasingly aware and minimising the repercussions this has for the environment and sustainability. And they need to prove they are doing just that.
Local councils across the country will be planning their own massive infrastructure projects, employing the services or many local SMEs. It will, hopefully, bring some much-needed prosperity to locations around the UK. They will have the opportunity to show how their actions are bettering people and the planet.
The sudden push behind construction will come with increasing expectations and accountability around their sustainability, social value, and overall impact. What will prove key is their ability to monitor what they are doing and proving the tangible impact they are having. Are they employing local labour and, if so, in what numbers? Are they using environmentally friendly materials or methods and, if so, to what degree? In the face of Black Lives Matter, are they providing equal opportunities and, if so, how many BAME people have they employed?
The scope for reporting your efforts is nearly endless and doesn’t have to impede on your contribution to building back better. But the construction industry can always do more for social value. Next week, we will look at the sector’s relationship with social value and how they are on the back foot; and how they can change that.
With Impact, we help you to measure, monitor, and report your organisation’s non-financial data. By visualising your progress and tracking your real-world impacts, you can continue to generate more social value in line with long-term strategies and goals. To find out more, get in touch with us on 0161 532 4752.