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Opinion: The importance of social value

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Opinion: The importance of social value

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing

Opinion: The importance of social value Opinion: The importance of social value

By Bob Taylor, CEO, First Ark Group

All of us could turn up to work every day, do what is expected of us, get paid and go home. But we could do so much more. If we look at how we run our businesses, how we interact with our communities and how we live day-by-day, we could make a real difference to the people and environments around us.

At the First Ark Group, we’re about much more than simply providing housing, completing repairs and collecting rent. We have wider social responsibilities that we want to meet. We care for our customers, colleagues, communities and the environment, so much so that we keep them at the heart of all our business decisions.

But while it’s all well and good to want to do business in an ethical way, how do you know that what you are doing and how you are doing it is beneficial – not only to your organisation but to those who you are trying to help?

As with any area of business, it’s vital to have evaluation tools in place to monitor and measure the success of your social strategy. There’s no point introducing certain ways of working just because you think they may help your employees or the environment if in fact they cost you too much money, aren’t sustainable and don’t actually make that much of a positive impact.

The First Ark Group has implemented such evaluation tools to monitor our impact and as a result we can better measure our social value. By doing things differently and changing the way we buy goods and services, focusing on partners and suppliers from the local area, we have realised over £2.3m alone in procurement savings for the Group over the last two years. Not only does it save us money, but it also boosts the local economy and keeps money in the area.

We also try to leverage additional value from our supply chain where possible. For every £100k of work they receive, for example, the group’s repairs sub-contractors must pay back one per cent of the turnover they receive, once it reaches a certain level, as a social levy to the group. We have received around £40,000 in social levies through this arrangement already, which has gone towards funding community projects and making an impact, and we expect to raise much more over the next few years as the Group expands.

And it’s not just the financial impact that is worth noting; as part of the Group’s investment and development programme framework, for every £1million of work our contractors receive, they must provide 52 weeks’ worth of training to local residents. Through this arrangement, we have received over 1,100 training weeks for local people, helping to boost their confidence, skills and employability.

We’re particularly proud at First Ark for being the first housing organisation within the Liverpool City region to gain the living wage accreditation. Nearly half of our staff live in Knowsley in Merseyside, so our commitment to pay the living wage increases the disposable income and spend in the local economy. But we’ve not just stopped at helping our own employees. We want our supply chain to buy into our social values and have decided to only work with suppliers and contractors who meet our living wage requirement. As a result, several companies have already been in touch with us to say they are implementing the living wage, proving that businesses can influence and change the way that others do things for the better.

Because we want to create sustainable communities, we want to help our tenants and local businesses.  Knowsley is the fifth most deprived borough in the UK and the majority of our tenants receive either full or partial housing benefit to pay their rent. One of the key changes we have implemented is to employ full time financial inclusion project officers, who provide advice and guidance to our tenants on welfare benefits, debt, affordable warmth and utilities.

We’re committed to improving the energy efficiency of our homes, helping our tenants to reduce their energy bills as well as do our bit for the planet. We’ve carried out 2,724 home energy audits to date, which revealed we’ve helped to generate £136k in energy savings for tenants.

Our environmental duties also reach the workplace, and all staff are involved in contributing ideas to making our offices more environmentally friendly. We are in the process of fitting smart meters in all our offices so we can track how successful the improvements are.

At First Ark, we take our social responsibility very seriously. We operate our business in an ethical way and consider the impact of our actions on our customers, employees, partners and the environment every single day.  We believe being socially responsible makes good business sense as we create both a business and social legacy in the way we work.

But we know that acting in isolation means we can only achieve so much. This is why we are so keen to work with contractors and suppliers who share our ethos. It’s far too easy to blame the state of the economy or the environment on other people, other organisations, or the government. We can make a positive impact, but we need to act now. Businesses need to recognise their social responsibilities and challenge themselves to generate as much social value as possible. I’d welcome a dialogue with other organisations that see business and the world in a similar way to us.

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