WWI anniversary Thank You artwork for the British Legion toured the UK in August ©Andrew Fosker/PinPep/Royal British Legion
WWI anniversary Thank You artwork for the British Legion toured the UK in August ©Andrew Fosker/PinPep/Royal British Legion

Case study: Professionalising The Royal British Legion's buying

7 September 2018

A focus on personal development has proved key to transforming procurement in one organisation

Leigh Kopec, head of procurement and contract management at The Royal British Legion, was brought in to the charity to transform a small purchasing function, seen as a frustrating blocker, into a much larger function, working strategically across categories to provide value across all areas. 

The Royal British Legion supports people who are or have been in the armed forces and their families, with fundraising high on the agenda – from procuring event teams to take climbers up Kilimanjaro to kitting out a mobile poppy museum. The charity is in good financial health but with the difficult fundraising climate, dwindling membership and Brexit, the future is uncertain. 

Having worked at Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie, Kopec was aware of a lack of procurement expertise in charities. “The sector is immature,” he says. “The job was to introduce the new world of procurement.” Improving reputation was also on the agenda. “We had to show we add value not time.” 

His first task was the most important: getting the right team. “I am a strong advocate for recruiting on soft skills,” he says. “I don’t need 10 years of experience.” That’s not to say Kopec doesn’t rate qualifications. Everyone on his team is MCIPS or working towards it. Kopec is a Fellow of the Future, and claimed his CPD certification when it became available online last year. Continuing professional development gave him the skills to recruit the right team, he says, “armed with information from the salary survey, articles and events.”

He is also part of a steering group with other charity procurement bosses. There are opportunities to consolidate: “We all buy badges, and spend a fortune on T-shirts. We’re talking about setting up a charity framework for T-shirts.” There is already a shared travel contract set up by the RNIB, and they are in discussions about sharing utilities.

The procurement team is now working on rewriting policies and introducing strategic projects, such as central contracts for purchasing food for care homes. The team is split across three categories: fundraising, remembrance and marketing (the biggest); corporate services and IT category team (updating systems and moving many to the cloud); and operations (including care homes, break centres, and welfare and counselling services). 

It is still very early on in the transformation, says Kopec, but already they are looking at savings of about £2-3m on a spend of £95m by next year.

The right systems

Kopec hopes to achieve savings across all of procurement, from care home dinners to stationery and fleet.

He is looking at systems to help users, creating preferred supplier lists, and e-catalogues. He has already created an online catalogue for stationery, saving about £50,000, and – with a lot of services around the country – plans to set up similar central preferred supplier lists for the charity’s core items, such as food and medical services for the care homes and fleet. “This is just the beginning of the cost efficiencies,” he says.

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