The London Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) set up a collaborative project working with breweries and distilleries to produce a supply of hand sanitisers, in order to ensure a sufficient volume would be available throughout the coronavirus pandemic. In just three weeks, orders were placed and delivered to the MPS by a chosen group of new hand sanitiser suppliers within London, UK.
As the coronavirus spread across the world, pressure for hand sanitiser supplies was at an all-time high and existing global suppliers were struggling to provide stock for stores such as pharmacies and public services. For police officers, the use of hand sanitiser is particularly important for maintaining safety because their job means close contact with people is often inevitable, especially when managing increased patrols to enforce lock-down rules.
Image: © Metropolitan Police
While the MPS Commercial Services department had already started preparing a supply base of PPE for its 20,000 frontline officers prior to this project by securing volume and value for money on the majority of items, Mark Roberts, commercial director at the Metropolitan Police, saw an opportunity to resolve a potential shortage for hand sanitiser by supplementing supply with a new source.
Roberts was inspired by a former colleague who had posted on LinkedIn about working with breweries in Brazil to provide hand sanitiser. On 18 March, the Commercial Services team started researching the concept and contacting breweries and distilleries in London to make enquiries. Within 36 hours, he was writing a paper for the commissioner to resolve any legislative issues with senior Home Office officials to ensure the project could proceed smoothly.
Through early engagement with three distilleries, Copper Rivet, 58Gin and Portobello Road Gin, the Commercial Services team was able to secure 55,700 sanitisers in varying sizes – approximately 20% of the volume sourced - in only two weeks.
Roberts says: “Having only recently joined the organisation in December, I made the decision to test our business continuity plan early in March as concerns regarding Covid-19 were increasing. Hand sanitiser supply was becoming problematic, so we simply approached the distilleries for their potential support. I think the project put a smile on the face of everyone connected to the project due to its innovative approach.”
Building trust and supply
A dedicated Covid-19 Commercial Services team was created in early March to support activities and address upcoming operational issues. This enabled the team to work more effectively, as roles and responsibilities were clearly defined, including engagement with existing and new PPE suppliers, stakeholders and other organisations (ie national bodies, civil service) to source PPE, benchmark prices, ensure a secure value for money, forecast demand, maintain operational resilience, and share knowledge and best practice.
Many alternate suppliers the MPS was approaching were already considering expanding their product lines to include hand sanitiser, but interest from the police services cemented the decision to start production as it highlighted that a potential market existed. MPS felt confident in supporting the distilleries in their new product line as they are all established UK-based organisations, and globally accredited guidelines for producing hand sanitiser formulas are available.
Roberts says: “In any new relationship, there is obviously some nervousness but it was beneficial for us that all organisations we approached were already considering making hand sanitisers. We knew that if we had to visit their facilities to assure ourselves over any questions, we could do so.”
The distilleries were eager to work on hand sanitiser products as the pandemic’s negative impact on alcohol sales were causing many to look for a new revenue stream. This enabled a “simple” and productive supplier engagement process, with significant interest from distilleries and breweries across London.
Roberts adds: “They were quick to recognise that sales of their established products may suffer during the current situation. Thankfully, a large number of people involved in the production of alcohol are scientifically trained, so creating some new liquid instead of another was something they could easily do.”
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Speed, Clarity and Cooperation
For MPS, in the specific case of the hand sanitisers, clear communication was vital in setting up a new source. An enormous number of questions and conversations were exchanged with breweries and distilleries via email in the first week, which helped get production underway. The team found that clarifying operational requirements through regular communication was essential throughout the process of bringing the new suppliers onboard and helped them understand the specific health and safety specifications around this type of PPE.
Roberts says: “I would hope that such a frenetic dialogue would not be the norm with our strategic suppliers from a business as usual perspective, but the undoubted need for clarity and timely communications will be the foundation upon which we will aspire.”
In order to provide confidence to the new suppliers in meeting the tight timescale, the Commercial Services team worked closely with the accounts payable team to expedite supplier creation and put contracts into action to receive supplies as soon as possible.
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Distributing Essential Hand Sanitisers
The project had a fast turnaround with the first deliveries of hand sanitiser arriving in only two weeks, by 2 April. The supplies were in a variety of containers and some required distilling into smaller bottles, while others came in handy-sized bottles. Overall, the MPS sourced 109,252 personal issue sanitisers from the alternative suppliers, and approximately 210,748 from donations and contracted suppliers.
Roberts concludes: “The demand placed on all PPE items has been unprecedented in terms of required volumes. Three months into the response, our plans are now to channel demand through our established partners who have been able to guarantee demand and value for money.
“As we look forward, there will be a considerable review on the experience everybody has had during this time, with learnings being included in future versions and in future supplier and contractual conversations.”
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