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 Emma MacGregor about city deals, bringing different partners round the table, and integrating social value from the outset.
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Five minutes with… Emma MacGregor, a consultant helping organisations to maximise their impact and performance. She specialises in Scottish City Region Deals, Regeneration and Economic Development, Social Enterprise, Skills and Employability.
You work within the City Region Deal landscape to help embed social value in economic development projects. Can you tell us more about what a City Region Deal is?
City Region Deals are agreements that governments make with groups of local authorities at a regional level to stimulate economic development and deliver inclusive growth through a portfolio of projects that are delivered through various partnerships.
What does your job involve?
I work alongside Deal Partners, either at a ‘Deal level’ or with individual project level, supporting them to maximise the delivery of benefits and embed social value into the heart of their projects. I help project teams identify opportunities for social value from design through to implementation and help them to develop their project evaluations ahead of the project going live. The partners will already have a vested interest in creating social value; particularly local authorities, colleges and universities who are already tuned in to this way of thinking.
But projects can be varied and everyone has different ways of doing things and different levels of knowledge and experience in delivering social outcomes via capital investment programmes. Sometimes projects need assistance pulling it all together to ensure that they deliver on the overall ambition of the entire Deal investment so I work with the delivery partners of a project to make sure that social value is embedded into their strategic framework and the delivery plan for the project.
What are the benefits of embedding social value within a City Region Deal project?
For me, social value within City Region Deal projects is about maximising opportunities to improve outcomes in the local area; be that the local environment or opportunities for local people such as improved skills and jobs etc. If it’s done well, the project should have a positive effect on local people.
There is a risk when large capital projects come in to local areas that they end up not meaning anything to the community. Local people might not know about the project or they feel as though it doesn’t offer them anything. Local people need to feel positive about the change or recognise the benefits that the project is bringing to the area. That’s why stakeholder engagement and involving local people in the design and delivery of projects is so important. They are the ones who understand what is needed, so building those relationships is vital.
What are the main challenges of embedding social value within a City Region Deal project?
We could all come up with our individual version of the ideal project but it takes time to come together, to speak to a broad range of people across different sectors and within the community, to identify the benefits that are possible and to map out the potential solutions. That’s the greatest challenge, but it’s also why I enjoy working in the City Region Deal landscape so much. It’s more than just community benefit leveraged through procurement; it’s about working collectively to maximise local impact. City Deal investment comes together in such a concentrated manner that it’s a huge opportunity to really make an impact and do things differently.
How can SMES get involved?
City Deals present local businesses with a huge opportunity to thrive in the supply chain. A lot of SMEs are already doing positive things that deliver social value but these things may not be measured or counted. It’s important that procurers build relationships with local businesses, and really think about what value they could bring to a project. If the project team understand what they are trying to deliver from the start, working with their suppliers can help them achieve key parts of their ambition.
What’s your experience of working with private contractors?
I’ve worked with a lot of contractors and they are usually very happy to get involved in social value but they are often not supported when it comes to working out what is manageable for them or what they should be asking their supply chain for.
They need an interface and someone to help them navigate the contract so that it gets delivered in a meaningful way. If they are not a local company or don’t have the resource to go out and research the local area, they may need help tapping into the community infrastructure, to connect them to local groups or people who can enable swift delivery of the benefit at a local level.
Can you tell us about a project you have been really proud of?
I was involved in the development of the ‘Kildean Business and Enterprise Hub’ in Raploch Stirling.
The charity I previously worked for was leasing office and training space in a disused community hospital building. The land was going to be sold by the local health board, but it was a beautiful historical building, local people wanted to preserve it as did the charity and its beneficiaries. We worked in partnership with a local housing association to raise enough funds to acquire the site and refurbish the main building and two disused and badly vandalised ward buildings. We worked with local organisations, community groups, businesses and the third sector to establish what was needed by a range of people in the local area.
It’s now a hive of community activity with the head office for the housing association, a social enterprise that offers vocational training for people experiencing unemployment, it offers affordable office space for charities and a start-up hub for small businesses in the private sector. It was a fantastic project and all involved were really pleased with it – I still have a thank you card from a family that lived across the road.
What’s the key to success?
Social value has to be a core consideration from the outset, it’s got to be given the same recognition and importance as financial sustainability. Thankfully I think we are moving away from social value being an add-on and I would say that this comes down to really great leadership so that everyone understands and delivers on the vision– that’s the key to success.