I have been a fan of the Social Value push over recent years, as it is a genuinely smart way of increasing outputs beyond the purely economic. Uptake of the agenda has been varied, understandably amongst the Private Sector contractors, but strangely, also amongst the Public and Housing organisations on the receiving end. Momentum is definitely picking up, with more internal conversations taking place between different departments to align priorities; and at HACT we are also seeing more organisations adopting our Social Value Procurement Framework. However, there are only a relative handful of organisations that I have come across who truly appreciate the mutual benefit that a strong Social Value Partnership can bring, beyond a simple box-ticking, bare-minimum-delivering exercise. I recently met with the procurement director of a Housing Association who told me she was had asked their solicitors, who are based 50 miles away, what they could offer the community. She also admitted that she hadn’t spoken to her own Communities team to ask what they thought the community needed or wanted. To me, this seemed like a backwards way of looking at it; it’s like a letting a car salesman tell you what additional features you need, rather than knowing what you want. PS, I have a snowboard compatible roof box for sale if anyone is interested, never used.
A year or so ago, whilst working in the Communities team of HA in the South East, I met with Morgan Hunt, a recruitment firm specialising in Housing and Education, and they had some interesting ideas about providing a Social Value offer that would be important and valuable to their customers’ customers. I think this is a critical step when doing business with a social business, as the value that they create is invariably centrered around their own customers. This felt like a refreshing step, and it showed that they had a genuine understanding of the priorities of their clients
I followed the project closely over the past year, and I have been pleased to see how it has progressed. Morgan Hunt have partnered with Learning Curve Group, a large national training provider, to create a suite of 20 online courses that can be offered to HA residents as part of their Training and Employment Programmes. Additionally, some of the courses could be useful to HA frontline staff, particularly the courses that focus on Mental Health Awareness.
As well as the range of courses, there are also further benefits that a lasting partnership with both organisations can have. Learning Curve Group are a multi-faceted training provider who have many projects focussed on pathways to work for people with a range of needs, which may provide a natural progression for those on HA Training programmes. Morgan Hunt are a large national recruitment company who have access to 1000s of roles from entry level to senior leadership, and would be able to provide routes into employment for those ready to work.
This project is being piloted by a number of Housing Associations, including Notting Hill Housing Group, where it is proving to be a successful initiative. Jessica Page, Tenancy Support Project Manager, said “We work in partnership with expert support agencies to help our residents access services they need. This partnership has led to many of our residents, and staff, signing up to take advantage of the qualifications. The variety of courses available has significantly increased the reach of the project.”
Many of the Social Value offers I see focus around the “X apprentices per £Y of contract” model, and often don’t go any further. Although I appreciate the value of apprenticeships, I think this approach is an easy way out, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the needs of the customer, or even give a wholesale picture of the advantage that a relationship with the proposing organisation can offer. The MH/LCG project offers immediate value to their customers, but also incorporates the resources and expertise that those organisations can bring to bear to provide additional benefits to residents.
I do think this is a perfect example of a well thought-out, well-executed Social Value offer that started out by gaining an understanding of the priorities of the customers, reaching beyond the procurement team and spending time with frontline staff to conceptualise the needs of residents, potentially by-passing any internal silo-thinking that may impede the insight sought. If Social Value is delivered in this way, it will demonstrate an alignment between the values of the contractor and those of their customers, conferring a genuine competitive advantage over those who simply opt for the what-can-we-get-away-with approach. It also exhibits the benefits of early and productive conversations with clients regarding what their service-users would want or need; a solicitor in Leeds doesn’t necessarily understand what the specific requirements of a community in Smethwick are, but by reaching out to key stakeholders in that area (e.g. their clients), they can jointly paint a picture and co-design an answer.
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