In-house buying team key to census success

28 March 2011

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 staff.

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.”

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