Directors blog ‘Is a new social world possible’ that gives an insight into ‘social thought’ and how it can be combined with restarting the economy to build a formidable UK social economy.

As a country we find ourselves in the thrust of the Covid19 global pandemic. A pandemic with no vaccine. A pandemic that has taken the lives of thousands around the world. A pandemic that has changed how we live, work, socialise and communicate.

But how will Covid19 shape our future world? Will Covid19 reshape our future or will it be a return to ‘business as usual’?

Those who know me know that I have championed the social economy for years. It was 5 years ago (after delivering public-sector services for over 25 years) that I took a risk and built a social business that put my social economic theory to the test.

Construction Impact Framework (CIF) is a pro-social business that procures construction works and services for the public-sector, when launching CIF I had 3 main objectives:

1. Create a unique ‘business for good 2. Achieve financial sustainability 3. Drive social value and help to sustain the VCSE sector by using profits to fund VCSE projects/initiatives

Naturally, I have been reading with great interest the views of those who believe Covid19 will result in a more ‘social’ world (because for some the social economy is a remedy to out of control capitalism). At a time when people are labelled as either on the ‘right’ or on the ‘left’ of the political spectrum discussing the social economy can be difficult for fear of being politically labelled, when in reality, a social economy is simply a human economy where our basic needs are met through a ‘social thought process’.

Conversations about the social economy highlights the many organisations striving to make the world a better place for others. However, many social organisations are not valued and as a consequence they struggle to achieve sustainability remaining reliant on charitable grants, funding and loans.

With every threat comes opportunity.

So, what can Government and Contracting Authorities do? As we seek ways to rebuild our future economy there has never been a more opportune time for Government and Contracting Authorities to re-evaluate the social economy and its role in public-sector capacity building.

For example: CIF makes public-sector money work harder by using profits to fund projects that tackle homelessness, domestic violence, mental health and employability. By funding prevention and intervention projects CIF is also relieving the pressure on public-sector frontline services thus building public-sector capacity.

Public-sector commissioning is one of the most powerful (yet under-utilised) tools we have that can help to facilitate economic recovery whilst simultaneously re-imagining the UK as one of the most formidable social economies in the world.

An unexpected outcome of Covid19 has been the laying bare of the fact that those caring for our sick and dying are also organisations who struggle for funding and whose teams are some of the lowest paid workers in the UK. The collapse of Carillion and subsequent stalling of the new Royal Liverpool Hospital (needed now more than ever) along with growing concerns about modern day slavery adds to the mounting evidence that ‘cheapest price’ has had an unintended opposite effect of value and here lies the opportunity.

By reviewing commissioning practices to move further away from cheapest price to value based commissioning both Government and Contracting Authorities can accelerate social value with the stroke of a pen.

Responsible, value led commissioning should be at the heart of every procurement exercise. Building a future economy where ethical businesses combine profit with purpose to build a more equitable and equal society.

Furthermore, such an approach can create a national tsunami-like ‘multiplier effect’ where contracts awarded by the Government and Contracting Authorities help to rebuild the economy, provide stability to the social economy, drive wages up to the real living wage, reduce the social economy’s reliance on charitable monies and provide wider community benefit with each and every contract award.

But is a new ‘social’ world really possible?

My experience in leading a social business in a competitive environment has at times left me feeling exhausted, frustrated and demotivated.  Far too often I have seen public-sector monies abused, been told no-one cares about social value, my work has been plagiarised and established networks have tried to squeeze CIF out of the market.

You may wonder why I continue? I continue because CIF has purpose; our purpose is to ‘relieve the burden of poverty through social procurement’ and our purpose has changed the lives of 1000’s of people for the better. So YES! I do believe a new social world is possible.

In the same way Covid19 exposed the facts about our care sector, it has created a craving for a new way of working. An ethical, social way of working that combines profit with purpose to strengthen our future economy and communities.

So, let’s call on Government to take this opportunity to drive responsible commissioning and create a formidable UK social economy that builds on public-sector capacity whilst delivering wider community benefit.

We have found the way … we just need the will!

‘Is a new social world possible?’ by CIF Director Sara Lawton

April 17, 2020


Construction Impact Framework


Social Investment