Features: January 12th, 2007

Public Private Convergence – The Gershon Way

When Sir Peter Gershon accepted the commission from the Chancellor and Prime Minister in 2003 to undertake a full review of public spending and potential efficiency gains … little did he know that the name “Gershon” would rapidly become a household name – synonymous with the challenges of cost-savings in the public sector for many years to come….

“The Gershon Review – Releasing Resources to the Front Line” argued that by working closely with departments and other stakeholders, auditable and transparent efficiency gains of over ?billion in 2007 and 2008 could be achieved, with over 60% of savings directly cash releasing. The Treasury recently announced that around ?billion of these savings had been made in advance planning.

Streamlining agency staffing services

So, where is progress currently being made? Public procurement is a very fruitful area – indeed, one of the areas that Sir Peter describes as “low hanging fruit that is naturally ripe for the picking”. And, one of the key areas is in the procurement of staffing services which represents a sizeable multi-million pound spend for all local authorities.

It is here, that the public sector has turned to private industry to take advantage of the millions of pounds already spent in up-front investment in the development of proprietary technology. This technology is already proving its worth in the private sector and through application into local authorities it is able to facilitate considerable streamlining of costs, resources and administration via an e-transactional and on-line capability.

One company that is emerging ahead in the procurement race to secure an effective transactional model, is Comensura. Entering its sixth year of operation, it is now working with over 26 local authorities nationwide – including Lancashire, Essex, Southwark, Sutton, Richmond and Islington. Savings back to local authority partners are averaging 10% on a direct cost basis – but with substantial indirect cost-savings also being factored into the equation.

Simplifying the staffing supply chain

This may sound easy, but to date – all the UK’s local authorities are using a broad selection of national and regional staffing agencies to provide the resources they need. In some cases, individual authorities can use up to as many as 600 different agencies, a staggering number when considering the personal interface that is required to efficiently handle such a roster.

The complexities and administration needed to secure consistent contracts across this number of agencies (in the face of massive candidate shortages) as well as ‘police’ holistic employment policies across this supply chain has resulted in sizeable administration departments. Yet, as any authority will agree, it has still not resulted in seamless provision of resource or the supply of the best resource ‘on the ground’ for that authority taking advantage of local suppliers.

Comensura’s model is straightforward. Through the management of on-line service provision and application of e-transactions, it streamlines all the client administration processes and day-to-day interface with the supply chain, whilst leaving all management control directly to the local authority through the provision of 24/7 management information that has never before been available. At the touch of a button, HR and procurement departments have total transparency of salaries, hourly rates, status of any one worker (or dozens!), consistency of margins and be reassured that one employment policy is being referenced and ‘policed’.

A new way of working to meet staffing needs

Indirect savings have come into play with the significant reduction in administration that e-transactions have delivered. For example, one local authority is quoted as having received some 57,000 invoices in any one year. Under its new arrangement, that same local authority now processes a mere 52. It’s not rocket science to appreciate the reduction in labour cost required.

Additionally, all suppliers are ‘graded’ by performance which also takes account of local supply and cultural issues. Comensura has recognised the value of delivering a workforce that aligns to the local population in terms of diversity and need.

Partnering with Comensura has led to a new era in staffing provision. Gone are the days of HR interface with dozens of suppliers each day in the hope of securing the resource they need and putting the supporting processes into play. Through the implementation of e-procurement, they can secure the required resource at the touch of the button and thereafter be 100% confident that the subsequent referencing, employment checks and contracts have all been put in play without further demands on their time.

So what have the challenges been in implementing a whole new way of working?

As Julian Young, CEO of Comensura explains: “As with any new mode of operandi, there have been challenges along the way. The main issue is one of change. The very basis of human nature is to be change resistant – to embrace a whole new way of working is not easy for many individuals.

Training and support

To help this process, the company carries out an extensive training programme with each Authority”. Young explains: “Once an outline partnership has been agreed with an authority, there is a period of several months, before that contract ‘goes live’. This interim time is very important as it is time in which not only do we create bespoke systems for that authority to meet individual need, but we set and implement out a highly individual training programme for all the individuals concerned in the forward management of procurement and resources. It is vital that everyone fully understands the new ways of working and indeed, appreciate the additional information that this system will give them. It’s not a one week quick training fix , it’s a much more in depth level of learning that ultimately looks to change many of the processes they have worked with over the last few years that have become a way of life”.

Comensura’s support team is available ‘round the clock’. The company has call centres in the UK and in Australia to take round 24 hour enquiries and give total support to its clients.

“The procurement of staffing services is a 24 hour business,” maintains Young. “If you are an Authority needing last minute gaps covered for the day, or night ahead, then you need 24 hour security of service and having two call centres where one wakes up as the other closes is the only solution. Every authority that we work with is secure in the knowledge that if they run into any difficulty at any time of the day or night, we are right on hand to sort the problem”.

E-procurement in staffing services is the tip of a much larger iceberg. Procurement of all goods and services are as Sir Peter would say … the low hanging fruit in the search for efficiency. The local authorities partnering with Comensura have clearly shown how a radical change in ways of managing staffing services can bring substantial benefits.