Understanding the social impact of construction: connecting CSR with public sector procurement

Public sector procurement represents approximately 26% of all construction work procured in the UK (Office for National Statistics, 2015). Arguably long overdue, public sector workload is being consolidated into packaged frameworks via a variety of novel organisations acting as agencies. Essentially, these organisations act to increase public sector buying power and widen the requirements to work with the public sector beyond the traditional project deliverables of time, cost and quality, to include aligning contractors’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities with that of the clients’ responsibilities to the public.

The frameworks potentially offer a high value workload over a long duration, which allows the public sector to demand in an ever more authoritative voice that their CSR targets are met. Concurrently, public sector budgets are being subjected to unprecedented cuts, and to an increase in public scrutiny. The accumulation of these arguments concludes that public sector bodies want to achieve ‘more for less’ when financing construction projects, and have the long-term high-value frameworks to add weight to their demands. Consequently, public procurement is now a powerful vehicle to drive and govern their CSR agendas in society, with meeting these CSR requirements pivotal to a main contractor’s ability to win public sector construction work.

However, stating their CSR commitments is the easy and well-used rhetoric of main contractors; capturing, measuring and illustrating the positive impact their CSR agendas have upon society is the difficult, but increasingly expected, next step. In the awarding of public sector contracts, clients will review this impact and so, to gain any real competitive advantage, main contractors will need to ensure their CSR agendas are thoroughly adopted internally, with rigorous measurement and communication processes in place to guarantee the impact assessment implemented is accurate.   CSR in action: A site visit for school pupils to see what working on site entails

There is therefore a need for research to further explore CSR, demonstrating how construction works can meaningfully contribute to society. Of particular importance is the way CSR agendas are set by main contractors, internally and externally communicated, and then mobilised and measured at a grass roots level. It is only with success in all three of these areas that a main contractor has a CSR agenda that will positively influence their public procurement opportunities.

An ongoing collaborative research project between Loughborough University and Wilmott Dixon is actively exploring CSR strategy in the public procurement arena within the areas outlined above. To date, the research has successfully completed a pilot study of how CSR strategies are communicated within the hierarchy of a main contractor’s organisational structure, to help explain any gaps between CSR ideals and the delivered reality. The research found that, as the CSR strategy diffused down the organisational hierarchy, the knowledge and awareness of its wider societal and business impacts reduced.

CSR in action: Construction professionals speaking to school pupils about the industry

By actively exploring how actors made sense of and engaged with a CSR strategy, opportunities to improve the delivery of CSR and the inherent limitations of current models of delivery were highlighted. Future research is planned to further explore the role of CSR, and will seek to establish any links from the success of internal CSR communication to the effectiveness of CSR measurement, and in turn how the accuracy of this measurement data can lead to public procurement success.

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For further information please contact Greg Watts (07894 560998; E-mail: g.watts@lboro.ac.uk).

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