Infrastructure falling short of social value potential, research claims

Young women from across Central Scotland participating in the Women into Construction programme, facilitated by GRAHAM.

The societal impact of infrastructure projects is being hampered by systemic shortcomings across the sector, according to new research.

A research report, Maximising Social Value from Infrastructure Projects, highlights missed opportunities in delivering wide-ranging, socio-economic benefits for individuals, communities and local economies. It also outlines changes that could prevent this and create additional social value from infrastructure projects.

Co-funded by the Institution of Civil Engineers and Useful Projects, the report says infrastructure should go beyond basic functionality and work to improve socio-economic inequalities, create jobs for previously unemployed people and provide broader benefits for communities based on local needs. 

Useful Projects director, Judith Sykes, who led the research project, said: “Investment in infrastructure development will be a major component of our economic recovery post Covid-19. If the UK is to deliver on the levelling up agenda and address the growing inequalities that have been highlighted through lockdown, we must make sure that social value creation is core to the investment case and delivered throughout design, construction and operation.”

The report offers observations and suggestions for stakeholders including local and national government, infrastructure clients and industry associations. These include: 

  • Greater ambition and creativity to maximise social value beyond apprenticeships and SME involvement in the supply chain. 
  • Plug implementation gaps that exist throughout the project lifecycle, through which opportunities to create and deliver social value are being lost. 
  • Target greater consistency regarding definitions, organisational approaches and measurement methods.
  • Use the vast budgetary and geographical scales associated with infrastructure to deliver greater social value from projects.

The report also makes specific recommendations for the ICE and other industry associations. These include the development of a common definition for social value for the built environment, a commitment to raise the profile of, and provide guidance around, social value as well as the incorporation of social value into standard contract models.

Mark Hansford, ICE’s director of engineering knowledge, said: “Social value has long been a key part of infrastructure projects but will assume an even more crucial role as the sector works towards its sustainability goals and society emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic. This report should serve as a timely reminder as to the importance of social value.”

Click here to download Maximising Social Value from Infrastructure Projects.

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email