It’s payback time, Dudley Council style

Dudley Council spends more than £300 million a year on goods, services and works – getting the best service and the best value for residents. So far, so blah.

The freshly repainted Titanic anchor
The freshly repainted Titanic anchor

How about making contracts meaningful? Hiring local companies where possible? And getting community payback with every procurement? Well, that’s exactly what Dudley Council says it is doing.

It introduced a social value policy in 2019, asking local companies what community benefits they could provide as part of their bid for business, reflecting the size of their organisation and the value of the contract.

The council was after activity that made a difference to the borough, supporting stronger safer communities, creating a greener and cleaner space and growing the economy and creating jobs.

This could be anything from offering mentoring and apprenticeships, to providing teams of volunteers for one off community events, to supporting community projects to improving green spaces and reducing carbon emissions, energy usage and waste.

Contracts are assessed on a sliding scale depending on the type of service and value of the contract with bigger contracts expected to deliver more in terms of social value. Social value can account for up to 10 per cent of the criteria to award the contract, so it’s in the interests of local businesses to offer more back to their community.

Councillor Shaun Keasey, Dudley Council’s cabinet member for commercialism and human resources, said: “The focus is also very much on keeping trade local and doing business with local companies as much as possible, looking to the borough first, then our Black Country neighbours, then extending to the wider West Midlands region.

“The results have been impressive, with perhaps the most significant element being the enthusiasm local businesses have shown to support their communities. We are pushing an open door and everyone wins.

“We’ve seen everything from donations of Easter eggs to children’s centres, to community litter picks, to food bank donations, to the provision of dementia friendly bathroom, to apprenticeships and even the repainting of a historic monument.”

Projects can see contractors working directly with the community they serve.

For example, one of the council's cable network material suppliers, City Electrical Factors – which supplies the council with cables, switches and cabinets for internet connection – joined a Tidy Stourbridge litter pick, collecting rubbish and taking the plastic elements back to their Dudley branch for recycling.

Or they can deliver a project that indirectly benefits the whole borough. The local branch of Bell Group, who deliver a range of painting and building maintenance work for the housing team, repainted and refreshed a 16-tonne reproduction Titanic anchor, smartening up the area and increasing civic pride. The team stripped back the original paintwork, refreshed it with three new coats of specialist paint and employed a professional signwriter to refresh the lettering which says ‘Hingley. Netherton’.

It can be service-specific, with Equans, who provide a range of refurbishment works to council homes, installing a dementia-friendly bathroom in one of the council's shared sheltered accommodation properties. With a wireless remote control-shower to regulate temperatures to prevent scalding, muted dementia focus lighting, contrasting floor and wall tiles and paintwork with a matt finish and dementia friendly high-level toilet, grab rails and drop-down bars, this bathroom allows residents to shower safely and with dignity.

Some companies are a natural fit for hands-on community involvement, some prefer to make a significant investment and allow communities themselves to decide what they need. Jewson Partnership Solutions, who are four years into a 10-year competitive dialogue contract with the council have made a retrospective rebate of £20,000 a year to be recycled back into community improvement schemes.

Many of these have been delivered via tenants and residents associations providing solutions where there is an identified need. This has paid for things like bollards at the end of alleyways to prevent illegal vehicle access, height restricted gates to prevent illegal access by caravans, clearance and tidying of overgrown areas to help residents feel safer.

They’ve also given money to the mayor’s charities and provided Christmas selection boxes for We Love Carers. The team has an enterprise advisor who goes into local colleges and sixth forms with a view to supporting work placements and inspire young people looking for careers in construction.

They provide interview training and CV preparation to help young people become job ready, and commit to at least one apprentice in their branch each year.

Overall, contracts tendered in the housing sector alone account for around 10 apprenticeships a year, specifically targeting hard to reach groups. Roles can be anything from plumbing, electrics, logistics to business admin and quantity surveying with opportunities open to everyone.

With each apprenticeship costing around £25,000 a year to salary and deliver, these are valuable contributions and add the value of providing skill and employability for the borough’s young people.

The new Duncan Edwards Leisure Centre

Dudley Council contracted Alliance Leisure to design and build its brand new Duncan Edwards Leisure Centre, which opened in January 2022. Alliance won the £18.1m contract and as part of its commitment to keep investment as local as possible, with 51.3 per cent of spend locally in terms of material and subcontractors, ultimately using 63 per cent local labour.

In terms of giving back to the community itself, Alliance Leisure completed a variety of initiatives which included collections for Breast Cancer Awareness, a sponsored cycle ride, and an onsite collection for Mental Health UK.

Through its own staff, contractors and consultancy team it also provided a full refurbishment of a local Headway Centre for stroke and brain injury rehabilitation which included a new kitchen including all appliances, a new external hard and soft landscaped area, painting throughout, both internally and externally, structural monitoring and advice for a potential extension to the facility. This donation in kind was valued at around £40,000.

It took on four apprentices for the duration of the build, with all of them remaining in employment. It also diverted 97.7 per cent of waste from landfill and produced just 1.21 tonnes of construction waste per £100,000 of project turnover.

Councillor Keasey said: “These are just a handful of the projects we’ve been delivering through our contractors. Our approach is making a massive impact locally, and yet it’s seen as a benefit for both parties, not a ‘woke’ add-on.

"Companies are genuinely enthusiastic about giving back and in many cases meeting those people they’re serving, making their contributions feel very real and valued. It goes to show that doing good can feel good too.”

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