Thurrock Council's procurement overhaul means suppliers don't see staff as a 'soft touch'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
26 August 2014

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26 August 2014 | Will Green

A complete overhaul of procurement processes at Thurrock Council has generated savings of more than £200,000 on their annual spend.

The work involved upgrading software, introducing skills development training and changing processes to cut the council’s annual third party spend of almost £170 million.

Procurement specialist Ken Cole said the work included training non-procurement staff to challenge suppliers and not accept the first price offered.

“They actively challenge now and ask about cost breakdowns and things like that. It gets the respect. Suppliers and providers don’t regard them as being a soft touch,” he said.

Cole introduced a new policy that no contract will be extended without a full performance and cost review, and a monthly “saver award” is now presented to the employee or team that makes the best saving.

The project, which took place over 12 months at a cost of £120,000, also involved “unifying the management of the commissioning and procurement process”.

“The key issue was that, like a lot of the public sector, procurement and commissioning had not been taken seriously,” said Cole, who is part of the East of England Local Government Association Talent Bank, a scheme that provides expert support to councils. “Everyone worked in their areas but didn’t put everything together. People were pulling in different directions.”

The work was complicated by the fact that tendering and contract awards are outsourced to Serco, with other processes dealt with by the council’s procurement team. Cole said he redrafted the service level agreement with Serco, extending it from half a page to 25 pages. “The key was to unify the whole process,” he said.

“We brought in proven ideas and approaches, exploited existing systems, helped train staff and extended the core team to ensure the work we delivered left a lasting legacy.”

Cole said the council has 4,200 suppliers and 80 per cent of spend is with around 200 organisations. The savings achieved have come in categories such as postal services, catering, furniture, IT and consultancy. The project has a target of reaching £900,000 savings.

Steve Cox, assistant chief executive officer at the council, said: “This has been a hugely innovative transformation project which has allowed us to fully understand how we can most effectively commission and procure £170 million of goods and services each year.”

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