Cornwall County Council – Change of Professional Services Provision Drives Big Savings

The second of the customers we heard from at Bloom’s annual conference recently was Cornwall County Council. They use Bloom as their supplier of choice to deliver public sector-specific professional services for their projects. Bloom operates the NEPRO Specialist Professional Services neutral vendor solution on behalf of NEPO, the north-east procurement organisation.

Stuart Hinde is Senior Supply Chain Specialist with Cornwall CC and he explained why they changed their scope and methodology and turned to the Bloom way of sourcing professional services, and the challenges he faced in doing so. He gave us a candid look at the needs within the council, and why they needed to change – which was familiar ground for many public sector bodies.

Part of the problem with the sourcing of professional services, lay in how the council had often differentiated between, and therefore accounted financially for, consultants and contractors. Various sources had revealed mixed communications over spend on what was either consultants or agency/temporary staff.

For instance, back in 2010-11 an FOI (freedom of information) request revealed that the council had spent £13.7m on agency/temp staff and £7.2m on consultants – an average of £750K a month. A press release of 2010 said that the past two years had seen reduced spending on consultants by more than £4m from £15.4 to £11.2. And another source said the spending on consultants in 2011, for a three-month period, was £6.7m. So clearly there was mixed visibility of actual spend and on what in that grey area.

There was also speculation in Cornwall about the number of public sector job losses owing to Central Government budget cuts, versus the spend on consultants, causing mixed feelings about the value of consultant use over the benefits of local authority employees contributing to the local economy.

On top of this, Stuart explained that their process for acquiring professional services was a) time-consuming, and b) paper-based and slowing them down (for example, he quoted, the PO process could take longer than the whole competition!). Equally, there was no formal process for managing contracts, and poor visibility of spend. This, coupled with lack of knowledge around future requirements from internal departments, made the procurement job a difficult one.

Stuart described Cornwall as a mid-sized council, and not historically cutting edge when it came to technology adoption and process efficiency – but clearly it was forward-thinking enough to recognise the benefits of adopting the Bloom route for buying professional services. He explained that they chose Bloom because “it addressed all of our reasons for change, to help us meet our strategic goals.”

He knew there would be adoption challenges ahead, both internally and for suppliers; “there are always pockets of resistance in any organisation, and it is easy to become very accustomed to the public sector way of working,” he said. But with access to experts and their experience of what other councils are doing, Bloom came in-house and shared their knowledge.

They held supplier days, targeting local companies, to understand the challenges of companies Cornwall was already working with, and other local firms who were potential suppliers – and the council got largely positive feedback from them. The council had tried just using email to communicate with suppliers to get them to register, but that wasn’t working.  Once they learnt directly about how working with Bloom would benefit them, it was a different story.

Equally, Stuart got other key internal stakeholders together, including Finance, and started building relationships. The idea was that all professional services purchases would now go through Bloom. And he explained the benefits:

  • It would enable them to put more emphasis on sourcing local supplies where appropriate, and giving local suppliers easy access to Bloom’s other customers
  • A much quicker, effective and compliant route to market, for direct awards or competitions
  • Access to a wider supply base, including experts with deep market knowledge
  • Improvement of budget planning and under-par spec writing, which had resulted in low number of bids, and some direct award behaviour resulting in paying higher day rates
  • Visibility of where spend is going, with accurate numbers and project-by-project reporting
  • Getting the right fit for the job and the organisation

Today, the swap to Bloom has taken months off the delivery of some key projects, he explained. And from October 2016 to Sept 2017, 80 projects have gone through Pro-vide (Bloom's technology platform). On a budget of £2.73m, £323K has been saved.

It was another successful local authority best practice and 'Bloom journey' story, and just what the audience of customers and potential customers wanted to hear.

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