Tough times continue for local authorities, with the projected overall funding gap of £8bn by 2025 now augmented by additional Covid-related expenditure. The local authority estate remains a challenge in these constrained times, where efficiency and value for money must be balanced with delivering facilities that fulfil the expectations of the local community.
The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) framework agreement was designed to provide a ‘one stop shop’ solution for better management of public sector assets and estates. The benefits are well documented, offering significant advantages over project-by-project tendering for consultant services. Using the CCS framework means the time and money invested in the capital programme is spent delivering the projects, not repeatedly procuring services.
Nonetheless, many councils are hesitant to take this approach. Concerns often centre around potential lack of control in the delivery process, a conviction that the portfolio has unique problems outside of the framework partner’s experience, and fears that the partnership could be locally perceived as contrary to the public sector ethos. Operational staff may worry about change and job losses.
Those of our clients who try this collaborative approach, however, are achieving impressive results. West Sussex County Council (WSCC) is an excellent example of a forward-thinking authority which made the decision to seek trusted advisors and greater efficiency through a pioneering multi-disciplinary consultant (MDC) agreement.
WSCC appointed Faithful+Gould in 2018, via the CCS framework. The five-year agreement for a c.£512m programme covers the design, construction and maintenance of a variety of capital assets across West Sussex. Around 80 projects a year are commissioned, including schools, One Public Estate, PropCo, and civic and community facilities.
Swift mobilisation was important to WSCC, and we were operational very quickly, delivering projects within three months of commencement, including pipeline health checks. The early weeks demanded intensive planning as we moved towards a reshaping of cultural behaviours and the development of transparency, strong communication and trust between our team and the council’s in-house team. Both teams share space within the council offices, engendering a sense of one combined workforce which promotes a fully integrated, collaborative approach to delivering projects.
Considerable efforts were made to match roles and personalities within the teams, with a mechanism for review if necessary. We provide over 40 personnel on the framework, 15 of whom were new (largely local) starters. Transfer of expertise is important, with the council expecting sharing of the best practice we have built from many years’ experience in this sector and on other frameworks.
Key to consistent efficient delivery are three initiatives which we undertook early in the appointment: a procurement strategy which identifies optimum methodologies, tailored to different project types and values; a collaborative working handbook, and a standard set of employer’s requirements. All three are eliciting positive results, combining to define governance processes and internal procedures for a project from start to finish.
WSCC is also benefiting from the information resources and training opportunities we can share, harnessing the expertise from different divisions of our business.
Automation has enabled more streamlined processes, including management of a high volume of contract documents. We have also improved the council’s capacity to oversee and report on its programme by introducing Navigator, our programme management software.
The combined team is committed to supporting the West Sussex plan for countrywide prosperity, community focus and opportunities for young people. 95 per cent of our supply chain are SMEs, and 68 per cent are within 12.5 miles of West Sussex county border.
Now in its third year, the MDC consistently meets KPIs and continues to improve. 92 per cent of projects have been delivered on programme. Team relations are working extremely well, with a shared sense of pride and a real sense of a job well done.
This is a relationship which has developed and continues to evolve. WSCC have found that they now have more insight into and control of their capital projects delivery than previously. They are benefiting from lessons learned, which underpins continuous process improvement. Importantly, there were early benefits—this is not all long-term strategy—such as improved governance, better reporting processes, and early agreement on KPIs.
The WSCC MDC draws on our substantial public sector experience, which focuses on helping many local authorities improve their capital projects delivery, while achieving a balance between quality and affordability. We work with our public sector clients via CCS, bespoke and other framework agreements.