28 March 2011 | Lindsay Clark
Early engagement with contractors helped the UK’s 2011 Census procurement run smoothly.
The Office forNational Statistics (ONS), which conducts the census, absorbed the lessons from the previous
population survey in 2001. That suggested an in-house team should be used to carry
out procurement and that contract management should be at the heart of the
project from the outset, ONS chief procurement officer Scott Howell told SM.
“Engaging suppliers early on in the procurement process can ensure
the requirements are fully understood, as well as having the amount of risk and
change reduced,” he said.
The once-in-a-decade census, which took place yesterday,
helps the government plan services and understand population changes.
The total cost of conducting the survey was £482 million.
About half of this was spent on suppliers, including: Lockheed Martin UK, which was appointed in
August 2008 to build the operational systems; Capita for recruitment, training
and HR support of more than 35,000 field staff; Royal Mail to deliver and
return questionnaires; and 3M, which bought and distributed supplies to field
The ONS has a three-strong full-time procurement management
team, which was expanded to include five fixed-term contract managers to oversee
the census contracts through their lifetime.
“This census has seen the procurement conducted by the
in-house team and not using an outsourced service provider,” Howell explained. “This
has given more control and the ability to have contract management throughout
the process. Procurement has been at the heart of the project, from establishing
a supplier engagement day in December 2004 through to now. Market engagement
prior to procurement has also been valuable.”
Howell added that the most
significant part of the procurement process was working with the short-listed
suppliers through the test and rehearsal, so that both sides understood the
risks and issues prior to any contract award. “Throughout this process,
suppliers were able to attend education days, where information and
understanding of what was required was shared, and questions were aired so all
could understand [the work required],” he said.
Through the census, Howell pointed
out that he had been able to work on a project that his friends and family would
recognise. “The 2011 Census programme has been the most exciting one I have worked
on in my 13 years in the profession,” he said. “It’s not every day you get to
work on a project that reaches every household in the UK.”