Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust – A ‘Forgotten About Procurement’ Story

Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust (YAS) underwent a procurement transformation that was so successful it ended up being shortlisted for, and came very close to winning, this year’s CIPS Supply Management Awards. We caught up with the person responsible for driving that transformation while at eWorld last month. Mike Fairbotham is Associate Director of Procurement and Logistics, and it was he who was tasked with this challenge.

He explained how tricky procurement can be when you are dealing with a mixed fleet service: no two ambulances are the same, some are Mercedes, some BMW, some Fiat and so on. They are painted different colours, and they are different ages. Getting anywhere in Yorkshire in 8 minutes is hard enough, he said, so committing to a response time of 8 minutes, with varying specs of vehicles, is even trickier. Adding to his challenge of procurement transformation, was the basic fact that no-one across the organisation even knew what procurement was! And given the nature of the business, it was paramount there was no disruption to service – because there’s a person on the other end.

There was a lot of pressure on the service to reduce costs, but Mike wanted his change management programme to also be about making procurement more people-focused. There had been little confidence in the function when he took over in 2015, and an even smaller budget to do the things he needed to do, like bringing in more people, save costs, add value, improve specs, manage existing contracts, suppliers and logistics and remain compliant.

He gave a flavour of all the priority spend areas that needed addressing, like uniforms and consistency in purchases, and the changing specs of stretchers as people get bigger, and heavier – and all with a lot of rolling stock contracts. He also highlighted how lack of budget meant he couldn’t start with a clean slate, no hiring of dedicated buyers; his current buyers were also doing other jobs. And there’s no big money in emergency services, he said, people join because they want to. It’s that kind of operation. Add to that how the service had been run for 10 years out of a porta-cabin, and you get the picture of just how ‘forgotten about’ procurement really was.

So what Mike had to do was embrace new ideas, collaborate with stakeholders better, and change the working environment. A couple of years down the line and he is looking at an ROI of x10 being really achievable and is already reaching x7.  He has regular meetings with representatives from all over the business to keep abreast of wants, needs and set realistic expectations. He has improved the goods in/out process and moved to proper offices – all good for morale. He has also saved £4.5m on ambulance procurement, reduced tender times, raised the warranty on all vehicles and lowered their weight (making them more agile) all without any disruption to the front line.

Want to know how he managed this? Over on Public Spend Forum Europe, we have published A Successful Public Sector Procurement Transformation Story – in which Mike outlines the key practices and processes he used to make the transformation a success. He gives good advice from his own inside experience – so if you are thinking of undergoing, or are in the middle of undergoing, any procurement change exercise, it might well be worth a read.


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