Social impact can be a difficult term to define. But businesses with ambitions to plug into lucrative contracts at Sellafield are going to have to get familiar with using it and - more importantly - making it happen. GILES BROWN reports.

Search for ‘social impact’ on the internet and you will soon become lost in a sea of articles, all striving to define exactly what it means.

However, as difficult as the term may be to pin down, it is something that Cumbrian businesses wishing to tap into the potential of major projects at Sellafield are going to have to get to grips with.

In May 2019 Sellafield Ltd introduced its Programme and Projects Partners (PPP) model, which brings together KBR, Doosan Babcock, Jacobs and Morgan Sindall Infrastructure in a 20-year partnership to deliver up to £7bn of work at the site.

As well as creating a more predictable model for procurement and drawing on the power of collaboration, PPP is also intended to deliver long-term social value for West Cumbria. Indeed, a company’s ability to demonstrate the social value it will bring is given a significant 10 per cent weighting on tender submissions.

One of the ultimate aims is to ensure that local people and the taxpayer get the greatest long-term value possible from the £2.1bn investment made into Sellafield Ltd each year.

In July PPP published its social impact toolkit, designed to help contractors understand what they can do to achieve things such as improving local employment opportunities and supporting recovery from the pandemic.

As Luke Richardson, PPP’s head of social impact points out, defining what social impact is in the first place is one of the biggest challenges.

"What we're looking at is the change that we can make to people's lives from either a social or economic background,” he says.

“Ultimately, what we want to be able to see is that after PPP there's a lasting legacy that we've left behind as a result of the work that we do.”

He says this goes beyond typical corporate social responsibility activities, such as sponsoring local sports teams or events.

"Employing people has an impact, and we recognise that, but one of the things that we've been doing at PPP is seeing what we can do further with that."

An example of this given in the toolkit is the PPP Internship Scheme, which is designed to help local people into work who face barriers to entering long-term, sustainable, quality careers.

Employers can get involved by identifying roles in their team that are suitable for people who are new to the nuclear industry and where there is a skills shortage. They then support the people who take the roles with a mentor to help them develop in the first 18 months of their job.

"We've made an intentional programme supporting people that probably wouldn't have managed to get into work with us directly," says Luke.

The toolkit is also intended to encourage companies of all sizes to collaborate to deliver projects.

"When you break down the layers of what PPP is, the supply chain can range from very small contracts to very large," says Luke.

"We've got people who've got a small package order which could be £20,000. What we've got to be able to do is help the supply chain at all levels understand how they can provide contribution. In some cases that will involve us in establishing programmes where they probably couldn't go off and create the programme themselves, but they can participate in 10 per cent of the overall 100 per cent of the effort of what we're doing.”

One such programme is the Bedrock scheme, which allows companies of all sizes to devote time to using their specific skills to support and volunteer for community groups.

On a practical level, Luke says businesses pitching for work at Sellafield can consider what is referred to as the “embedded” or “additional” impact they will make if they win the contract.

Embedded impact refers to what the business will need to do to fulfil the contract, for example, to take on extra staff.

However, it is likely everyone bidding for the work will have to do something similar.

"What you can do to change that is bringing in apprentices, bringing in people through internship programs; there are things that you can do that tweak the way that it's delivered that enhance the embedded impact,” says Luke.

He says businesses also need to consider what impact they can have “above and beyond” this - the additional impact - to try and gain a greater weighting for the social impact section in their bid.

"Ten per cent of the deciding factor of whether you're going to win work ultimately comes down to whether you're going to deliver really good social impact and if you can articulate that on paper you'll get 10 per cent of the marks straight off the bat," he says.

Gary McKeating, Sellafield Ltd’s head of development and community says it is also important for businesses to “tell the story” of how they will make a social impact - beyond simply the facts and figures.

"Businesses will take on apprentices because that's good for their business for the longer term, but where do those apprentices come from?” he says.

“Do they come from a challenging background where maybe it needs a little bit of extra work to bring them to a point where you can employ them. That's the over layering that's important for us.”

Businesses can also show a desire to play a part in current social impact schemes.

"People don't have to reinvent the wheel," he says.

"We want people to be able to plug in, get the shoulder behind current schemes, because the more people that do that the greater impact it has.”

He says it is important the social impact moves away from what is good for just Sellafield Ltd and its supply chain but also bring benefits for the wider community and sectors beyond nuclear.

Examples of this include the recently opened £5m Bus Station development, in Whitehaven, owned by BEC (Building Extraordinary Communities) but built in partnership with Sellafield Ltd.

Gary also cites the £1.7m Western Excellence in Learning and Leadership (WELL) programme - funded by Sellafield Ltd and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority - aimed at improving education and standards through collaboration with Cumbria County Council and the Cumbria Alliance of System Leaders.

He hopes PPP can be a successful model that can act as an inspiration for similar projects around the world.

"All of us as taxpayers want to get the most value for money,” says Gary.

“Part of the definition of value for money is the social impact agenda, which is of massive value to UK PLC. The work that we're doing is of national and international importance.”