Defence and Social Value: Too big an opportunity to miss

15 March 2024

Defence suppliers can generate an incredible amount of social value for communities across the UK, especially if we all work together, says Chris Taylor, our Head of Defence and Security

At Ridge, we’ve embedded social value across our business. We’ve analysed the government’s Social Value Model and built a team and a strategy around applying it throughout our operations and on all our projects. We’ve made great strides on behalf of the clients, communities and businesses we serve, but we know there is so much more we can achieve – and of the multiple sectors in which we work, for me it’s defence that has by far the greatest potential.

Defence touches so many lives, both those within the military and associated industries, and those living “outside the wire”, in the vicinity of our bases and manufacturing facilities. In terms of spending, it’s a large and steadily growing part of the economy. It’s not subject to the same peaks and troughs as other sectors, and it is unique in its geographical reach – no other industry or government department has such a broad footprint. Defence has a presence in every part of the UK, including remote parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland, and in the overseas territories too.

All of this adds up to an incredible opportunity to rethink the way we deliver projects to generate added value for communities, whether that’s by providing employment and training, enhancing the natural environment, or bringing the vast military estate closer to the goal of Net Zero Carbon.

Social value may be a relatively new concept for defence, but it’s been a key component of other public-sector projects for up to a decade. We believe that if we could take three key things we’ve learned about delivering for communities and apply them to defence, we could super-charge our social impact.

1. Doing our homework
There are as many ways to deliver social value as there are communities – at Ridge, we know that effective engagement with local stakeholders is fundamental to achieving successful outcomes. It’s vital that we take time to research the specific environmental, economic and social challenges in the often remote locations where we work and that we listen closely to what local communities and businesses tell us. This process of engagement has to continue throughout a project lifecycle if we’re to respond effectively to changing local needs and take advantage of every opportunity to add maximum value. This is central to doing business responsibly, and to fulfilling the spirit of the Social Value Act.

2. ‘Golden thread’ to escalate social value
A coordinated approach is the secret to longer-term value. A single project might only last six months, but there will be multiple contractors and consultants working in a location over a period of years.

I was inspired by a recent podcast, in which Peter Coy, Social Value Implementation Lead at the MOD, spoke about the social value policy outcome as the ‘golden thread’ that should run right through a contract, informing everything we do. I wonder if we could go even further as suppliers and pass the baton on from one project to another, so the incoming team can build on the previous team’s work – akin to the concept of a building Health & Safety File in construction that operates through the life of the asset.

That’s the approach we’ve been taking with regard to the Crown Commercial Services (CCS) framework. We’re part of a working group of participating suppliers who meet regularly to develop a single Social Value Plan across the framework. Couldn’t we apply a similar model in defence?

3. Quality, not quantity
If we want to transform communities and maximise social value, then we should be striving for high-quality outcomes, not just high numbers. In the podcast, Peter Coy gave the example of climate change as a global problem that no organisation can solve on its own, but a concerted focus on adding value for local communities could add up to a major contribution. This is a prime area where we need to change the way we do things, rather than just doing more of them. We can add much greater value if we rethink project delivery to reduce carbon emissions, or increase biodiversity while also providing additional social benefits for communities. Over time, the incremental, site-by-site effort could really shift the dial towards achieving that overarching goal.

The power of collaboration
It’s not just the scale and reach of the defence sector that puts us in such a strong position but also the uniquely collaborative nature of its projects. Working in defence requires specialist expertise and the supply chain is concentrated. The industry works well in partnerships to find the best solutions to a problem, and defence authorities proactively encourage collaborative working and creative thinking. That’s one of the reasons working in defence is so rewarding.

Imagine if we could take that approach and apply it more widely, to social value. Defence specialists will take their social value experience from project to project and, over time, this will improve and embed into delivery. If we do that, there’s no limit to what we can achieve together, for communities across the UK and beyond.

Chris Taylor is Head of Defence and Security at Ridge. He delivers projects for the Ministry of Defence, Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, UK government and the Armed Forces.

Chris will be on Stand 17 at DPRTE on 27 March 2024.
Contact him at: christaylor@ridge.co.uk

Lauren Bailey is Head of Social Value at Ridge and will be on Stand 17 at DPRTE on 27 March 2024.
Contact her at: laurenbailey@ridge.co.uk