Every week we talk to, learn from, and are inspired by amazing people doing innovative things in the world of social value and we are excited to share some of those conversations with you.
Today we're talking to Carol Glenn, one of the first dedicated Social Value Managers in a UK Local Authority. We talk about perceptions of social value, challenges with measurement, and what makes some suppliers stand out with their social value story.
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Five minutes with…Carol Glenn, Social Value Programme Manager for Solihull Metropolitan City Council
What do you do?
My role is to embed social value across Solihull Council’s procurement and contract management processes and to report back on its delivery.
Is it unusual to have someone within the public sector whose sole responsibility is social value?
It’s very rare. Usually social value is an additional responsibility for people in procurement or the communities team. It means I can look at social value from a much wider perspective and spend time getting to know our communities and talking to suppliers – conversations that are essential to creating social value.
In your experience, do people still struggle to understand what social value is?
Yes. When I first started in my role two years ago people didn’t understand what it was or how to create it or measure it. It was a chicken and egg situation because to explain it you need examples of how it works well.
There can be a perception that social value is just a fluffy idea, something that gets written into a tender as a ‘nice-to-have’ with no firm targets or tangible outcomes. That’s why I introduced the National TOMs measures from the Social Value Portal to give us a set structure so we could tell suppliers exactly what we are looking for and help them report back on what they are delivering.
Are there any downsides to using the TOMs measures?
TOMs has been really useful for us in terms of providing us with structure and a regional benchmark to feedback to the cabinet, but there is a tendency to get hung up on the figures and people sometimes think they equate to a monetary saving on a contract. I like to show people that the stories behind the figures are just as important and my focus at the moment is on building a library of case studies to bring that to life.
Does Solihull Council take a strategic approach to social value?
Absolutely. Our corporate leadership team at the Council are very supportive and since last year we have included social value in the council plan. Embedding social value in our strategy shows suppliers how important it is to us and it also means that we have to monitor it and measure it, so suppliers know that you expect them to deliver on their promises and that you are going to chase it up and won’t let it slip. That’s where councils have missed a trick in the past by putting social value in tenders but never really following up with it.
There are always some suppliers that are asked to do social value but don’t do it properly. Why do you think that is?
It usually comes from a lack of understanding about what’s expected. We had a supplier that hadn’t delivered on his commitment to engage with local schools and support young people into work. His excuse was that he expected us to arrange everything for him which isn’t how it works!
You’ll also have suppliers that think they are already doing social value by just delivering the contract, especially in areas like social care. Just because you are delivering a social care contract doesn’t mean you are creating social value. What else can you do to add value? Can you invite schools to visit as part of an enrichment programme or arrange an afternoon tea with the community? Those are the sorts of ideas we are looking for.
How do you get suppliers look beyond the delivery of the contract?
Pre-market engagement and ongoing contract management is so important. You need to speak to suppliers and help them spot opportunities. Often they’ll be this lightbulb moment when they think, ‘we can do that’.
We were working on a woodland tender recently and the supplier said that because the contract was short they wouldn’t be able to deliver any social value because they couldn’t employ local people or have apprentices. I started talking to them about the woodland waste and mulch; could they donate that to a local garden project or give the leftover logs to a nearby charity that makes garden furniture and sculptures? Or perhaps they could get workers to do a woodland litter pick for the last hour of their shift once a week? Things like that really do make a big difference and it’s my job to help people spot opportunities that would otherwise be missed.
Can you tell which suppliers are going to be really good at creating social value?
The best suppliers are the ones that already do a lot of social value already; they have it embedded in their ethos and company culture. They are already working collaboratively with social enterprises and community groups, they already let their staff mentor and volunteer, and they understand that these things benefit their business as well as creating social value. These are the suppliers that come into the contract with the right attitude; not to just deliver the contract but to actively find ways to go that bit further.
What’s the one thing you would like everyone to know about creating good social value?
That we all have a responsibility to do it. People sometimes thing that because my role is social value that I do everything, but it’s not something that any one person can do on their own. We all need to work together to make it happen.
This article first appeared as part of the Social Value Files, sign up here to keep up to date.