National Highways has published its first ever Social Value Plan. “Although we’ve been contributing to social value for a while, we haven’t measured everything that we contribute before,” says its website.

This, of course, has implications for National Highways’ supply chains. If National Highways is measuring it and maximising it, its suppliers must do the same. Some of the earliest actions in the plan involve the authority’s suppliers: implementing a set of supply chain metrics and creating a social value reporting tool.

Measuring social value is not straightforward. In the past, it has involved some rather blunt tools, which haven’t always had the desired outcome.  There have been anecdotal horror stories of contractors off-hiring apprenticeships on one contract so that they can create the requisite number of ‘new apprenticeships’ on another.

Social value goals aren’t just about numbers; they should fit with specific and identified needs and be valued accordingly. For example, an apprenticeship for a well-supported, well-educated young person cannot have the same value as an apprenticeship for a disadvantaged person.

We don’t know yet exactly what social value issues will be measured by National Highways and how. We do know that National Highways is thinking about social value under these four headings: economic prosperity, improving the environment, community wellbeing and equality, diversity and inclusion.

There aren’t many hard targets in the plan yet either. Just one: National Highways wants at least 5% of workforce enrolled on formal apprenticeships or graduate development schemes within five years.

Other more general goals that will be of interest to supply chain companies include increasing spend with smaller and more diverse organisations and contributing to employment and opportunities for under-represented people. National Highways also says that it is looking to increase automation, modular construction and offsite construction to reduce the negative health impacts of construction works.

Apart from ‘doing the right thing’, the point of recording and measuring social value creation is that it can be taken into account when decisions are made. The industry should be able to explain to the public and other stakeholders that major road construction or repair contracts are not just a major pain in the neck; they are improving people’s lives and livelihoods

And considering social value – alongside capital and operational costs, carbon costs and environmental impacts – should feed down into procurement decisions too: “We will ensure a potential supplier’s ability to deliver social value is prioritised when we buy goods and services,” says the plan.

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