Collaboration and streamlined policies are helping HR and procurement to improve services at Westminster City Council
The UK government spends more than £220 billion on goods and services and £170 billion on salaries, which means HR and procurement are responsible for at least £2 in every £4 the government spends. So there is an high expectation that monies of this magnitude are managed exceptionally well. Yet in spite of the determination of many leading professionals in both HR and procurement, pitfalls and snares that absorb and neutralise change drag both of us down.
We can blame institutional complexity, a joint failure to standardise specifications or a silo mentality, but the single greatest cause is our failure to develop collaborative working models. And this is because HR and procurement lack an understanding of the benefits of a strategic approach to procuring goods and engaging staff.
While the rest of the public sector embraces partnership working, we at the corporate centre refuse to rid ourselves of the bureaucracy and duplication we call “our policy”. Both HR and procurement are built of skeletons of unskilled activity that can be done by others faster, better and more cheaply than we can do it. The true value of procurement, as with HR, is when we move away from being a department to becoming a philosophy. We need to encourage a move to a commissioning approach, specifying and monitoring local government services through use of market intelligence and planning.
At Westminster this is beginning to happen, with HR and procurement service teams disbanded and streamlined policies and strategies reaching across silos. Our frontline council departments retain their independence, but in this new environment strong governance is established from the start to ensure that stakeholders are involved and their needs are being met. Relationships with stakeholders and external partners are now being managed through mutual service level agreements.
The next stage requires an even stronger mandate to reshape both governance and structure. If we want our service teams and external providers to penetrate our fortresses then we need to open the gates and let them in.
☛ Graham White is director of HR at Westminster City Council
How it works at Westminster
Westminster City Council procurement has undergone an exciting change that has seen many council departments working with procurement in a new way.
HR and procurement have proved they can reduce costs and improve service delivery. HR procures a spectrum of products from human capital to long-service gifts, so there is everything to gain from procurement working closely with HR. However, this success was not guaranteed. The successful partnership has been delivered because of four key actions:
1. We established professional recognition from the outset to ensure both teams recognise the value, role and purpose of the other.
2. Although the two departments work closely together, we don’t meddle in each other’s backyards.
3. We take time to learn each other’s language while demystifying our own by avoiding buzzwords and acronyms.
4. HR and procurement now set key mutual goals and objectives.
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