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Talking Point with Paul Maliphant

Social value planning could signifi cantly boost the ground engineering sector and the wider economy too

Social value may not be top of your agenda when considering the solution to a ground engineering challenge, but perhaps it should be.

We all know of the difficulties that people have in gaining employment, the fact that our clients generally have less money to spend and that we have carbon targets to meet to control global warming. But there is more we could consider in how we go about our business and the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, and the background to it, perhaps gives us something to focus on.

“Consider the additional social value we could deliver with £6bn over five years”

Th is Act defines social value as the “economic, social and environmental well-being” of the area we are delivering our services and requires public sector bodies to consider how they can secure better social value through procurement. It takes a local view of matters, suggesting - and occasionally demanding - that we consider the impact of our work more closely by reviewing the value we can create.

Social Enterprise UK sums the opportunity up well by asking: “If £1 is spent on the delivery of services, can that same £1 be used to also produce a wider benefit to the community?” We can champion this on a job-by-job basis and should be doing so. But this also resonates well with the issues ground engineering has faced for decades where the sector has case study evidence that risks in the ground can and should be better managed, if only we could get clients and project leaders to recognise the value that we can deliver and support us in doing so.

Twenty years ago we had evidence that indicated that we could achieve a risk assessed return on investment in excess of 14:1 just by increasing the amount spent on ground investigation from 1% of construction cost to 5%.

Recent evidence from the Netherlands confirms that 5% or more of total construction cost is still spent rectifying ground-related failures during construction. They have a national, funded programme, called Geo-Impuls, with the ambitious goal to halve the occurrence of geotechnical failures in civil engineering
projects by 2015. Extrapolated to the UK national infrastructure planned investment, that is equivalent to UK construction saving £6.25bn over five years.

Consider the additional social value we could deliver with such a sum. We would have to invest more in geotechnical risk management to secure the savings so that is good business for the ground engineering sector. But if we could still free up, say, up to £1bn a year for more socially valuable outcomes, such as enhanced employment opportunities, better schools and healthcare, improving mobility, enhancing social care, stimulating regeneration and local growth, including through robust local supply chains, is that not a worthy goal?

Thinking and planning for social value is good for business and good for society, so let’s do it.

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