Hounslow Council – bringing contract management and procurement closer (part 2)

Hounslow Council are pursuing a radical strategy of moving operational contract management and delivery responsibilities into the Supply Chain function, alongside “traditional “ procurement.  In part 1 of our interview (here) we spoke to Sarah Rayner, who heads up that function. Here’s the rest of that discussion.

Let’s talk about people. Is your Supplier Performance team - who do the contract management work - mainly people who have moved across from the other service areas?

Rayner: It’s a mix. There was an existing procurement team at Hounslow of course before this new structure and strategy was implemented. Then we wrote new job descriptions and gave people in the service areas first refusal when Supply Chain took over the performance management – some moved, some didn’t. Some moved and changed jobs in the new structure.

And what are you trying to do from a skills point of view?

We’ve developed a common commercial skills core, around category and contract management, then on top of that, there will be category specific skills and knowledge. And some of those are very specific, such as safeguarding in the adults services area or technical knowledge in Highways.

Have you recruited externally?

Yes, to some extent, but we’ve found it difficult to be honest to get good people. So  really we’re growing our own team – it is currently quite a junior team, which has some advantages- we can mould people to our model we hope!

What about CIPS –are you putting people through CIPS training and qualifications?

Where appropriate, yes, but we’ve also used specific training in negotiation, cost base analysis and other topics we feel are important. But there are a few gaps in the available training that we’ve found – for instance, in terms of developing skills around what you might call “hard levers” for achieving value through the contract management process.

You’ve got Children’s Services still to come over to you next year. That’s the most sensitive area, I would assume – big spend and huge social impact and sensitivity?

Yes, and there’s a big agenda there around audit and compliance with our providers. But it clearly isn’t a category that you can or should treat like a commodity purchase. So we have to show it isn’t about just a box-ticking contract management process – or cost cutting for that matter. It’s going to require a combination of rigour and sensitivity to manage these contracts successfully.

Moving away from the Hounslow picture a little, do you use collaborative agreements?

Yes, we use Government Procurement Services in the main for leverage items - but with more complex services, we find the optimal number of councils to collaborate is probably three. But even that can come unstuck if service leads not being cooperative and seeing the benefits – you need more than just the procurement people to want to work together.

Finally, are you enjoying the role so far?

Yes, very much so. We’re in the phase of converting the vision of this new way of working to reality and real outcomes – that’s very exciting.

Thanks Sarah!

So, we appreciate Sarah Rayner taking the time to talk. It’s really too early to say whether the strategy is working, but it’s a fascinating approach, and we will watch progress in Hounslow with great interest.

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