Providing Procurement Capacity to a Small Council
Providing Procurement Capacity to a Small Council

Many small, local councils are being asked to take on large value or high risk public procurements, as “localism” pushes service delivery down from bigger public organisations. This project with City of Ely Council demonstrates the East of England LGA’s ability to provide low-cost, high-value advice to smaller local councils who may lack the experience and expertise to take on such procurements. The service adds genuine value – speeding up processes using proven techniques and templates – whilst at the same time reducing fear by reducing the Council’s exposure to risk.

Overview

City of Ely Council is a relatively small “parish” level council in Cambridgeshire serving a population of 16,000 residents. It is in the process of taking on a number of services specifically for the residents of Ely that were previously provided by East Cambridgeshire District Council. Amongst these is responsibility for the monitoring of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras.

As part of the handover process, the City of Ely agreed to lead on the procurement process for the required upgrade to wireless communications for the current CCTV camera network, a project estimated to be worth approximately £100,000. Although the Council had access to outside expertise to support them with the technical aspects of the project, they were still presented with a number of issues to overcome in managing the procurement process itself:

  • A lack of experience in running larger value public procurements
  • Little or no awareness of relevant public procurement legislation
  • Little or no understanding of how to advertise and generate interest in the contract
  • Limited in-house capacity to carry out the “nuts and bolts” of the procurement process, such as drawing up documentation, dealing with expressions of interest and evaluating tenders

In addition to the above, the Council was working to a very tight timescale in order to effect the handover of the service from East Cambridgeshire.

The Council agreed to buy in up to 6 days of procurement advice through the East of England Local Government Association, in order to guide them through the procurement process and assist them in overcoming the obstacles outlined above.

Outcomes

Using existing contacts and knowledge, the East of England LGA’s procurement advisor was able to provide the Council with access to some quick wins, which would otherwise have required sufficient investment of the Council’s own resources, in particular their own staff time. These included:  

  • Free access to an on-line contract advertising portal
  • An Invitation to Tender template, including a standard Supplier Questionnaire
  • Template documents for managing a tender process, such as for capturing Expressions of Interest, recording Clarification Questions and the Evaluation of Tenders received
  • Template letters for successful and unsuccessful bidders

The Council received 23 Expressions of Interest in the contract and 8 full tender submissions, ensuring the achievement of sufficient competition to guarantee “best value” for the City of Ely tax-payer. This was also accomplished in compliance with any public procurement legislation and in accordance with the council’s own “standing orders” within their constitution, thereby avoiding the potential cost of acquiring any additional specialist legal advice.

Following evaluation of tenders, the Council was presented with a summary evaluation report and a recommended winning bidder. Support was also provided in dealing with any requests for feedback from unsuccessful bidders – all enquiries were dealt with swiftly, successfully and with minimal impact on the Council’s own resources. Using specialist advice proved to mitigate and ultimately remove the threat of any challenge from an unsuccessful bidder and the substantial financial and reputational risks associated with that for the Council.

The successful tender was slightly below the proposed project budget of £100K.

In the end, the Council used only 4.5 days of the 6 available, resulting in a 25% saving against the original budget for procurement support.

Learning

During the process, the Council overcame their “fear” of the public procurement process and embraced the requirement to be transparent in their communications with all tenderers. This led to a focus on getting the right outcome rather than worrying about following the “right” process.

The Council was also comfortable with transferring responsibility to the procurement and technical advisors for certain elements of the process but did so without abdicating any accountability. Councillors remained actively engaged and regularly monitored progress against milestones.

There was complete confidence in the process and final outcome under [Eddie Gibson's] guidance. We felt engaged, in control and well supported during the process.

Cllr Liz Every - Deputy Mayor - City of Ely Council