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Improving health and safety in public sector building and construction

Tackling post-Grenfell challenges for safer homes and communities
By Steve Rowland on 15 February 2022

Procurement in the public sector has always come with its own, unique challenges. We’ve talked before about budget restraints and the ongoing difficulties of attracting staff with the right skills, managing risk in the supply chain and ensuring engagement with procurement from the very beginning of a project, as well as the added pressures brought about by a global pandemic and post-Brexit regulation changes.

With the Government’s Building Safety Bill expected to pass into law later this year, public sector procurement professionals can expect yet another layer of complexity and challenge to come their way in 2022, but the good news is that help and guidance is available to support them.

What’s coming?

Described as representing the most significant overhaul of building safety legislation in decades, the Building Safety Bill is intended to introduce more stringent safety requirements and increase accountability for health and safety throughout the design, construction and building management process. It will apply to all new high-rise residential buildings, care homes and hospitals of at least seven storeys, or 18 metres in height.

Developed in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, the bill proposes severe penalties for those that fail to meet their health and safety obligations in relation to these ‘higher-risk’ buildings.

The post-Grenfell construction landscape

A total of 72 people died and more than 70 were injured in the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017, when an electrical fault in a refrigerator in the high-rise block of flats sparked a blaze, the spread of which was intensified by the flammable exterior cladding of the building.

The tragedy was a sobering example of the potentially catastrophic consequences of getting these kinds of design and build decisions wrong.

The role of procurement in setting the standard

The enquiry that followed the Grenfell Tower fire was strongly critical of the procurement process that led to the cladding in question being installed on the building.

In her independent review of building regulations and fire safety, Dame Judith Hackitt described the procurement process as ‘setting the tone’ of a construction project, “kick-start[ing] the behaviours that [are] then [seen] throughout design, construction, occupation and maintenance”, adding: “Procurement sets the tone and direction of the relationships between the client, designer, contractor and their subcontractors, as well as determining the formal specification of the building.”

At eXceeding, we couldn’t agree more. But it’s easy to criticise, and not always as easy to support a change to better ways of working. That’s why we were pleased to see, ahead of the anticipated passing of the Building Safety Bill later this year, and as part of its Levelling Up agenda, that the Government has provided some practical guidance for procurement professionals in public sector design and construction on embedding practices that deliver safer, better quality buildings.

What does the guidance say?

The guidance sets out a series of procurement and contracting questions that it recommends should be addressed in advance of each of three stages in the design and construction of higher-risk buildings – at planning application, prior to work starting, and once a project is complete.

It suggests all parties involved in the design and construction of these buildings work together through so-called collaborative construction procurement to ensure safety, quality and the needs of residents are at the forefront of everyone’s minds, thereby reducing risk and improving quality and value.

In practical terms, this means:

  • Taking a balanced approach to value vs competence,
  • Committing to safety and quality compliance,
  • Sharing information digitally with everyone involved in a project,
  • Practising early supply chain involvement,
  • Regular consultation with each other and with residents on issues including risk management,
  • Having transparent decision-making processes,
  • Engaging with residents about their duty in relation to safety, quality and regulatory compliance.

“Fire and structural safety issues can be exacerbated by poor procurement, including: poorly designed tender specifications and processes, eleventh hour contractor appointments, lack of appropriate engagement with the supply chain, and contract forms which prioritise low-cost solutions at the expense of building safety. These practices can result in poor value for money and poor building safety outcomes. The Government believes that collaborative procurement approaches can help to mitigate some of [these] poor behaviours…”

– Government response to the ‘Building a Safer Future’ consultation

For public sector construction procurement professionals, these provide much-needed tangible areas for focused action. However, transitioning to new ways of working will require everyone involved to work together to ensure the process of change is as simple and straightforward as possible.

How can eXceeding help the public sector post-Grenfell?

At eXceeding, we believe we have a solution that can help, and we’re already working with local authorities to help them improve the safety and quality of their homes.

Our neutral vendor framework, developed in partnership with Constellia, offers those responsible for procurement within public sector organisations a single framework from which they can source everything they need to serve their stakeholders, including goods, works, ICT-managed services, and professional services.

The framework is designed to encourage and enable collaborative procurement, providing buyers and suppliers alike with the tools, processes and foundations they need to work better and smarter in key areas like public sector construction.

Let’s look at those practical steps again…

  1. Competence Unlike with fixed public sector procurement frameworks, new, pre-approved, pre-qualified suppliers can join our neutral vendor framework at any time, meaning local authorities benefit from the most current thinking and practice in each category area.For more information on procurement frameworks and what they have to offer, you can read our blog on this topic.
  2. Value Local authorities can procure under the framework for free. It is entirely funded by suppliers, who pay a small percentage of their invoices in return for the opportunity to join.Procuring many different category requirements through one single channel, potentially with a single supplier, makes for a more efficient and cost-effective process for everyone involved.What’s more, by joining what is effectively a community of like-minded public sector buyers, local authorities open up possibilities for public-sector-specific economies of scale, knowledge transfer, partnerships and innovation, helping accelerate progress to towards sector targets on supplier diversity, local SMEs, sustainability and reaching net zero.
  3. Safety and quality compliance By procuring through eXceeding, local authorities have access to an experienced intermediary that will ensure every process, from platform and marketplace onboarding to contract award, is fully compliant with all relevant legislation and matches best practice.
  4. Early supply chain involvement Under the neutral vendor model, we encourage local authorities to engage in pre-award discussions with suppliers, and to access their recommendations for improving contracts and specifications. As experts in procurement, we also review everything to ensure requirements are achievable and clearly articulated, allowing for improved SLAs, KPIs and value for money.
  5. Consultation, information-sharing, engagement and transparency By procuring under the framework, local authorities are able to ensure they only receive high-quality bids from suppliers that actively want to work with public sector clients, and understand and share their goals.Our neutral vendor model is designed to create genuinely strong buyer-supplier partnerships based on open, honest dialogue and total transparency.Meanwhile, a purpose-built source-to-pay platform allows for ease of bidding for suppliers, as well as increased transparency, data-sharing and control of the procurement process for both buyers and suppliers alike.We also share our expertise in contract management and supplier relationship management within the goods, works and ICT-managed services to ensure value for money and a strong working relationship extends beyond an initial agreement throughout the full duration of the contract.Read more about the benefits of our neutral vendor framework.

Let us help you

At eXceeding, we exist to help organisations with their procurement challenges – whatever they may be.

To find out more about how we are helping the public sector, you can contact us here or book a free appointment using the form below.

Steve Rowland - eXceeding Managing Director

Steve Rowland

Before eXceeding, Steve spent 16 years working on the supplier-side of outsourcing. During Steve’s 24 years’ experience, he has worked on global and UK outsourcing deals, ensuring the creation of win-win partnerships.

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