SMEs urged to add value with net-zero and slavery pledges

Charlene Henderson from Deptford and Greenwich Allotments at Feed the Hill, which is a beneficiary of a Lewisham Council contract. Pic: Lewisham Local.

Small and medium enterprises in Lewisham aspiring to win valuable council contracts have been told that adding ‘social value’ could improve their chances of being commissioned.

Businesses and voluntary organisations should consider making modern slavery statements, partnering with charities and adopting net-zero commitments, according to the Lewisham Social Value Impact Report 2022-2023 which was released last week.

Lewisham has one of the lowest employment densities in the country with only one job for every three people, as well as the second-highest proportion of micro-businesses in London. For many of these 10,805 small businesses winning large contracts is the only opportunity to scale up.

Lewisham Council told ELL: “Creating wealth in the community by working with local organisations, people and suppliers means we keep money in the local economy, which can only be a good thing for the Lewisham business community.”

Young people involved in the Construction Youth Trust programme which received funding from Lendlease in 2022. Pic: Lendlease

The council has been increasing their focus on Social Value year on year and the new report confirms £74 million was spent on in-borough contracts over the last 12 months.

This includes the employment of 824 Lewisham residents, 23 contracts awarded to local businesses, charities and community projects and £18 million spent on local wages.

These figures may leave many of the boroughs’ small business owners asking how they can get involved with a share of the Social Value budget.

Lewisham Council’s advice includes:

  1. Partner with a Lewisham charity or organisation:  

This could include offering work experience opportunities, running paid ‘volunteering days’ for staff, donating unwanted electricals to organisations like Catbytes Digital Community, only using local businesses in supply chains or giving a percentage of a product lines’ profits to a local charity. 

  1. Make sure your business has a Modern Slavery Statement and reports on inclusivity: 

Pay the London Living Wage, collect employee data on protected characteristics such as gender, faith or sexual orientation and outline how your business has taken steps taken to be inclusive. Templates for Modern Slavery Statements can be found online and should be tailored your business. 

  1. Make waste, environmental or net-zero commitments: 

Consider purchasing products with better environmental credentials, using electric delivery vehicles or switching to a renewable energy provider for premises.  

  1. Establish a wellbeing strategy:  

Outline how your business supports employees’ physical and mental health. Consider getting Mental Health Tick accredited, demonstrate employment clauses protecting the rights of staff recovering from mental illness or run training days to challenge health-related stigma.  

  1.  Include a Social Value section in your contract bid:  

Set aside at least 10 per cent of your bid to detail your ethical practices and what you can realistically offer when it comes to local community opportunities. This might be a set number of local apprenticeships, hours of volunteering or any specific agreements you would put in place with named community groups. Incorporate a long-term vision for these commitments and explain how they would develop over time.   

Lewisham’s Social Value Impact Report, and their 2019 Social Value Policy, make it clear local businesses who can demonstrate their commitment to community will have a significantly higher chance of being contracted than out-of-borough firms that focus on financial offers alone.

The shift in focus from profit to people is hoped to help bring down the 25 percent, around 31,000 Lewisham households, categorised as “vulnerable” to rising living costs.

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