As a Senior Partner at Pellings leading teams that design, procure and manage the planned repair, maintenance and improvement of social housing for local authorities and registered providers throughout London and the South East, I have noticed that the sole supplier route in the procurement of building surveying consultancy services has increased in popularity over the last couple of years and regularly consider whether this or the multiple consultancy framework produces better results for clients.
I believe that the uplift in the sole supplier option is something of a reaction to the industry’s long-term skills crisis, with clients seeking to secure their supply chain. Also, by offering a large ‘long-term’ opportunity to the market; clients believe they will encourage efficiencies and receive better value for money, as suppliers vie for a big prize. It also makes sense for clients to match their approach to procuring consultancy with that of the constructor and or reactive maintenance partner, and if a long partnering approach is embedded into the client organisation at constructor level, it can make a lot of sense to extend that to the professional team.
Whenever Pellings is appointed as a sole supplier, we apply processes within the first 100 days to ensure we get to know the client well, understand their working methods and become intimately knowledgeable about their housing stock. A key benefit client-side is that they only have a single point of contact to manage. As a sole supplier, there are more opportunities to strategically support clients in their overall objectives; for instance, we have been looking with several clients at rooftop developments, where an understanding of both existing assets and development objectives is crucial.
Driving out inefficiency is key to the success of any sole appointment. I am a great advocate for the benefits simple preventative maintenance offers. For example, regular cleaning and checking of rainwater goods can save potentially expensive damage to the fabric of buildings and unhappy residents who experience damp. It’s worth noting that many of the large private landlords Pellings works with are very focused on regular planned maintenance, and it is an area I feel public sector clients can make an improvement in.
But is the sole provider scenario as beneficial for both parties as it first appears? It’s interesting to note that whilst we are seeing more sole consultancy procurement activity, my QS colleagues at Pellings are simultaneously seeing an uplift in requests to audit contractors, many of whom have long-term arrangements, for value for money.
And this is the underlying challenge for client organisations. By going down the sole supplier route, how do you know that you are receiving long-term value for money without competitive tendering?
There are, of course, several approaches that can be taken to ensure that value for money is being delivered, and independent value for money audits and external benchmarking should be encouraged by all parties, however, ultimately there must be a high-level of trust between client and consultant.
For many clients, the multi-party framework is better understood and less risky, and it is possible to replicate many of the benefits of a dedicated team. For example, we have worked with many clients where we have looked after the south of the borough, another consultancy has looked after the centre and another the north, thereby creating many of the benefits of a dedicated team, whilst retaining an element of competition and allowing for benchmarking. Some clients take it further by reducing the number of consultants they use over the period of the framework, thereby in effect working towards a sole supplier who has been selected through real performance over a couple of years.
Another issue that must be taken into consideration is whether the sole supplier has the capacity and skills to gear up its workload, whereas with multi-supplier arrangements there is more flexibility in the supply chain. In that case, I can see the sense of having two or three consultants on a framework so that the work is more evenly spread, and risk reduced.
There is no one best approach with consultancy frameworks. Sole provider and multiple provider frameworks have their plus and minus points. In taking the sole provider route, a lot of consideration and planning is required both on the client's side before and during procurement and then by all the parties involved once the appointment is made. A sole consultancy appointment can bring significant ‘step change’ benefits but require a real commitment to collaborative working and ability to accept some risk. Multi-party frameworks, especially those with a small number of consultants can offer many of the benefits of sole consultancies, but ultimately whatever route is selected it is the balance of skills, capacity and real desire to deliver the best solution that makes the ultimate difference.