Growing stakeholder relationships vital, says Kew Gardens procurement boss

17 June 2016

The onus is on procurement teams to engage and sell their services to uncooperative stakeholders, says the procurement chief at Kew Gardens.

Joanna McKelvy, head of procurement at the UNESCO world heritage site, has spent the last three years turning around a difficult relationship between procurement and the estates team and told this year’s LUPC & SUPC Conference that she “had to do a really hard sales job” to engage her stakeholders.

She added: “But I don’t think the emphasis is on estates to do that, I think it’s on procurement.”

Before McKelvey began working for Kew Gardens, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) was responsible for procurement and their relationship with estates was “uncomfortable”. 

“There was a lot of miscommunication between estates and procurement [under Defra]. It was extremely tense,” McKelvey said. “Everybody thought procurement was a blocker, and we’re trying to position ourselves as being a procurement team with a solution.” 

The different departments were also bad at communicating with each other. She said: “Everyone just went off to their own end of the 300 acres and never spoke to each other.

“The way we addressed that, we communicate better. My colleague… often actually goes down and sits in estates probably two to three times a week now and actually has a presence there. 

“As a procurement team we developed a little hub where we’d sit in the middle of it and support everything, and are there as a kind of internal consultancy.”

She added: “That’s quite hard, you need to be really responsive if you’re going to do that, it puts quite a lot of pressure on a small team but it’s the only way to get that buy-in.”

As well as improving communication, McKelvey said she had to convince her stakeholders to let go of some of their existing supplier relationships.

“We started off with: ‘Fine, if you’re right you’re going to be right. If you say Joe Blogs’ company is the best provider then excellent…. [But] we’re a science institute, let’s just test the hypothesis shall we?’” she said.

On average McKelvey said they made 20% savings on what she described as informal contracts. “And generally that [stakeholder preferred] supplier does win, but at a significantly lower price,” she added.

It is currently a “phenomenally busy” time for estates at Kew. The Victorian era Temperate House (pictured) is undergoing a £37m refurbishment to replace the glass, and McKelvey said they have a £100m backlog on critical building and infrastructure work.

“Everyone forgets, they just looks at the plants and everyone forgets that all the infrastructure has to be built, all of the resurfacing has to be done, everything has to be sorted out.”

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