Integrate social value into capital investment programs
As Northern Ireland embarks on a period of transformational change in a new, sustainable post-Covid era, the infrastructure development needed to support it must not only achieve fundamental goals, but must also create real social value.
The case for this change and the mechanisms to implement it have been well made, with capital investments in our transport, utilities, digital and road network, education and health and more. Despite the perpetual budget deficit, there are exciting opportunities ahead for progress, including the blue / green infrastructure fund, the transition to a net zero economy as well as the funded £ 1.3bn growth deal. by the Treasury for four cities / regions.
But to truly maximize these opportunities, the social value that supports wider societal development must be an integral part of this process.
Social value and what it can deliver is not easy to define or measure, but it can be generated in many different forms, whether through training and skills development of the unemployed, or through employment. improving the health, well-being and quality of life of communities. It is about shifting the focus of providing infrastructure to that of broader social outcomes.
If we can fully integrate social value into infrastructure development, this will not only be the key to our economic recovery, but it will also play an important role in reducing inequalities in the most affected communities in Northern Ireland. In addition, each community can and must be accompanied on the road to recovery if we truly want to create a more equal future.
The Northern Ireland executive recognized the importance of social value and the need to reflect it in capital investment programs and in June Finance Minister Conor Murphy presented new policy proposals for the award of public tenders with companies expected to produce benefits for local communities.
With government being the main engine of infrastructure development, it is an important step for the executive to impose social value clauses in its public procurement process.
The policy change aims to ensure that public spending is used for the common good in order to achieve multiple results beyond the primary objective of the investment e with companies incorporating these key social value assets into plans. proposed development
By integrating social value from the start of the project, it becomes part of the procurement, design and development process. It helps promote a partnership approach between government and the private sector to ensure positive socio-economic impacts for communities through the provision of infrastructure.
Forward-looking, progressive companies that see the big picture are already very present in this space and examining how social value can have the greatest impact. George Maybury, Public Sector Director at Dell, says social value can and should be targeted, with the ability to incorporate clauses that excite and interest young people in our most disadvantaged communities, creating opportunities that excite them.
He says the executive should consider how social value can marry the passion and interest of our young people with areas in which Northern Ireland has a competitive advantage such as the creative arts and virtual film production, this which makes it a win-win for the next generation. , communities and Northern Ireland plc.
Channeling this type of vision will be the key to the successful integration of social value into infrastructure development and an important asset that can help drive this agenda is the Infrastructure Commission launched by Nichola Mallon this summer. The sooner the Commission can start its work, the better.
What is positive is that there are already projects underway that take a leading approach to delivering benefits to the community, including the Belfast Transport Hub and the new Casement Park, which since their inception have both put the local community at heart. of the project.
The pre-construction transport hub brought important community benefits that have already improved the local environment, through 1,250 hours of volunteer projects to support local schools and businesses. The project, from childbirth training, has a strong focus on employment, training, education, diversity, inclusion, health, well-being and the environment.
While Casement Park was conceived as more than just a sports stadium, it is intended to become an integral pillar of the local community by contributing to the region’s ongoing social, cultural and economic regeneration. The social clauses will provide training and skills development for young people in the region, as well as opportunities for cultural, artistic and community groups to flourish and prosper.
The essence of social value is inclusion, it identifies the needs of a local community and tailors the project to meet those needs. It should be adopted by all, infrastructure projects can and should deliver many more benefits to individuals, communities and local economies.
With significant investments planned by the government, social value creation should be a guiding principle in the design, construction and operation of infrastructure projects in the future as an important tool to improve society and fight against inequalities.
:: Claire Aiken is Managing Director of Public Relations and Public Affairs Aiken
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