My experience of collaboration
I took up the post of Head of Integrated Commissioning and Procurement at Manchester City Council on 1st April 2019 but my previous role as Procurement Programme Manager for The Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) involved spending almost 7 years managing a collaborative procurement programme for the 10 Local Authorities in GM plus 4 associate members from outside of Manchester and a number of other public sector organisations including the Fire and Rescue Service, the Police and Transport for Greater Manchester.
Between 2008 and 2011, I managed the Construction & Asset Management and Waste & Environment Programmes for the NE Improvement and Efficiency Partnership which both sought to realise efficiencies from collaborative approaches to delivering services, often underpinned by a procurement process.
I have therefore experienced collaboration in several forms – this paper outlines different ways to collaborate and some of the successes and some of the challenges.
Types of Collaboration
There are a range of ways in which public sector authorities can collaborate ranging from formal shared services to a phone call between colleagues to share experiences and maybe an email to swap some model documents.
There are also various drivers for collaboration ranging from issues around staff recruitment and retention through to a recognition that pooling resources can bring about improved outcomes from the procurement and free up resources to work on other projects.
Models can vary from governance structures such as formal joint committees made up of members from each participating authority, inter-authority agreements, Service Level Agreements, Lead Authority models down to a voluntary arrangement where authorities put in place local collaborative contracts involving 2 or 3 public sector organisations.
Frameworks are often used as the model for collaboration and national and regional frameworks are another example of collaboration either with “speculative” frameworks available pan public sector which carry estimated volumes or more needs-focussed regional or sub-regional frameworks that are more specific to actual needs.
Formal Shared Service – equal partners establish the arrangements, sometimes with a host authority, possibly including other services such as legal, finance, ICT etc. The service will be overseen by a Joint Committee made up of members from each Council. The service will have a presence at each Council with teams working in an agile manner.
Informal Shared Service – underpinned by an inter-authority agreement. Under this arrangement, the authorities retain their own teams and collaborate over an agreed work programme where there are advantages to joint contracts or frameworks.
Collaborative “Hubs” – for example where a number of authorities agree to fund a unit that will facilitate collaborative contracts or frameworks using the savings and other benefits that will accrue. This can mean a “revolving” lead authority role or the unit itself may carry out the procurement exercises. A contribution towards the funding may come from “rebates” from suppliers that cover the running costs of the unit and possibly return surpluses to the participating authorities.
Service Level Agreement between 2 authorities – often a “Lead Authority” that provides a service for others on a rechargeable basis. This type of arrangement is common where a large authority can attract and retain qualified and talented staff more readily than smaller neighbouring authorities.
Frameworks are also a form of collaboration where the drivers vary from a shorter procurement route using mini-competitions involving suppliers that have already been put through a compliant pre-selection process. The collaborative hub arrangement described above is often used to set up regional frameworks. In this case, the requirements will be pre-determined and participating authorities will have made some commitment to use the framework whilst others may have indicated an intention to use it at a later date.
National Frameworks may involve an organisation that is committed to establishing a framework and decides to make it available to any authorities that are interested in using it – often only deciding to do so during the life of the framework or it may involve an organisation seeing it as an opportunity to generate revenue from offering a short route to market for large areas of spend. In these circumstances, the value of the framework will be an estimate and there is no firm commitment from any specific authority to use it.
- Able to achieve improved outcomes in financial and service delivery terms due to greater value of contracts
- Can overcome local capacity or recruitment & retention issues
- More efficient – “invent one wheel”
- Councils rotate the lead authority role to make best collective use of resources
- Contract Management benefits from a joined up approach
- Risk of losing a larger value contract provides greater pressure on a supplier to perform once a contract has been awarded
- Loss of “on-site” expertise for participating councils
- Larger contracts may put local companies at a disadvantage as they attract larger bidders which may conflict with Council objectives to stimulate local growth
- Social Value requirements of different partners may vary due to local issues – for example a seaside town with a seasonal economy has different challenges to rural areas that may surround it.
- Innovation can be stifled as participating authorities move at the pace of the least adventurous participant
- The recommended option may not be the lowest price for some participating authorities
- Thresholds for tenders/quotes and sign-off processes may vary between authorities which can delay mobilisation
Clarity – definite requirements and potential growth over the life of the contract and include volume discounts when other councils join the contract if possible
Apply solid Programme/Project Management Approach to each contract with clarity about objectives, engagement, risk management & stakeholder engagement
Consider all options so that risks are addressed through careful design and application of evaluation criteria
Consider taking a “Dynamic Purchasing” approach so that new suppliers can be added or requirements can “evolve” over the life of the contract