May 01, 2017 Last Updated 10:20 AM, Apr 28, 2017

Collaboration is the key to smarter procurement

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The West Midlands Contractor Framework came to a close last month following four years of operation. Designed to make cost savings and improve efficiency in public sector construction projects, it’s been a huge success for all those involved, having delivered some truly innovative buildings. Here, Andrew Peasgood, Framework Manager, explains how smarter procurement is driving positive change in the public sector.

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Launched in 2010 – at the beginning of a new Government era – the WMCF was a regional public sector framework tasked with simplifying construction procurement and project management. In doing this, our aim was to unlock costs savings through greater efficiency, management and collaboration.

The WMCF contained Worcestershire County Council, Herefordshire Council, West Mercia Police, Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and Warwickshire Police and our contractors were Thomas Vale Construction, Speller Metcalfe and Kier Construction Central. It’s through these contractors our projects were delivered, ranging from schools, council offices and libraries to leisure centres and emergency services facilities. More than 30 projects have been completed by our three contractors.

The core principle behind the Framework was to remove the cost and resource intensive process of competitive tendering and focus instead on value for money and quality. By allocating work on a scored rotational basis, the Framework partners could quickly and easily progress much-needed construction projects while monitoring performance, quality and best value through a series of KPIs. Not only did this encourage greater consistency across the Framework’s projects but also ensured the contractors and partners were working to achieve common goals and objectives.

This integrated approach allowed for a different style of delivery compared with the cycle of competitive tendering. Rather than wrangling with budgets or contractual disputes, the Framework’s performance-related structure encourages the contractors to focus on providing the best possible service to the best possible standard. This frees up the contractors to address other issues, such as investment in skills and new technology and exploring opportunities for creating truly innovative, efficient spaces.

BIM investment

For example, Speller Metcalfe is currently working on creating a shared learning environment – the Habberley Learning Campus – which replaces three Kidderminster Schools; Baxter College, St. John’s Primary School and the Wyre Forest Special School. Targeting BREEAM Very Good rating, the project involves the construction of a new science teaching block, new early years teaching hub, the new Wyre Forest Special School and new Wyre Forest School Residential boarding unit, as well as extensive refurbishment and extension of St. John’s Primary School. To achieve this, the contractor has heavily invested in BIM – targeting BIM level 2 four years ahead of government requirements. As a result, all of the new buildings will be built to low energy principles using high insulation and air tightness values, reduced cold bridges and heat recovery technology. This is a huge step forward for Worcestershire County Council – which is flying the flag for modern, efficient construction across its educational facilities.

Another example of how removing the competitiveness from the construction process can actually help to boost innovation and encourage better construction practice is the £8.1m Kier Construction Central project to create a new Herefordshire Archives and Records Centre. The existing facility has been struggling to meet the environmental and access standards required by The National Archives for accreditation and as a result is in need of extensive and costly repair. In response, Kier is working with Herefordshire Council to construct a cost efficient, low energy, purpose built facility to strict Passivhaus standards. Not only will this precise balance of space heating and cooling help to preserve and protect valuable local records but it will also manage indoor air quality and comfort levels, keeping the building’s overall running costs to a minimum while making it a welcoming environment for staff and the public. Planning permission was granted in January 2013 and thanks to a streamlined procurement process and early contractor engagement, Kier is targeting completion this winter. The finished project will be one of the region’s most sustainable facilities and will be testament to the importance of social value in public sector construction.

In helping to streamline the process of procurement and delivery, the framework has helped the public sector partners improve the quality of their public services. From creating light, well ventilated and thermally efficient spaces to enhancing service delivery on the ground, the Framework’s emphasis on information sharing between the partners and contractors promoted an open and honest environment in which they learnt from each other’s experiences. It also encouraged the public sector bodies to coordinate and streamline their construction output more efficiently.

Improved relationships

This cohesive approach started from the early stages of procurement and has allowed for greater partnership working between the public sector organisations, looking for ways to pool resources and make efficiency savings without compromising the quality of service delivery. An example of this is the Bromsgrove ‘blue lights’ hub – the UK’s first ever purpose-built combined fire and police station in Bromsgrove. Identified as a cost-effective way of replacing two ageing facilities with one central hub, this pioneering project was joint venture between Framework partners Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service and West Mercia Police. The Framework allowed for more time to carefully plan and design the project over a six month pre-construction period, reducing overall floor space by 25 per cent and cutting energy costs by 20 per cent, and encouraged the two services to better coordinate crisis response and streamline back office functions to save time and increase environmental and operational performance.

Local supply chains

These long term relationships have also had a positive impact beyond the immediate Framework. Through four years of operation, the contractors spent a significant amount of time building local supply chains in the region and encouraging community engagement across the Framework projects.

By using local sub-contractor web-portals like Find-it-in-Worcester, holding ‘Meet the Buyer’ events, working with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and running specialist skills and training programmes, the Framework established strong relationships with local companies. As a result, on average the Framework contractors sustainably sourced almost 90 per cent of all available sub-contracts and materials from within 30 miles of site. This helped to reduce the cost and environmental impact associated with the transport of goods and services – as identified in the Framework’s Environmental Charter – and encouraged local companies to upskill and diversify. In turn, this long term investment in local goods and services also generated over £100m of economic value for the region.

The contractors also encouraged public engagement where possible, from holding open days on site to running specialist schools and careers events. The Framework also organised an annual charity day, where teams from all three contractors would club together volunteering their time resources and skills to help with community initiatives. These activities encouraged enduring positive relationships between the public sector organisations, the teams delivering on the ground the public and the local community from sod cutting to topping out and, as a result, the contractors achieved consistently high performance and Considerate Contractor Scores – essential to delivery of sustainable efficient construction.

Improved management

What the Framework shows is how vitally important regional frameworks can be in helping public sector organisations better manage construction projects, achieve and maintain high standards of service, and strive for more sustainable, energy efficient facilities. By speeding up the delivery process, reducing project delays and encouraging collaboration, the Framework has encouraged the contractors to develop their services and look for ways to demonstrate value engineering. In turn, the partners have achieved overall cost savings of around two and a half per cent and established a new generation of building stock which is modern, efficient and cheaper to run. This goes some way to meeting the Government’s target for ‘procuring collaboratively’ and is an excellent example of the Communities and Local Government Committee’s benchmark of ‘best value, not simply lowest price’ in practice.

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