Commissioning in Transport: Relieving summer pressures for Lewisham Borough Council

In part two of our interview with Wendy Hall, Travel Coordinator Team Manager and Keith Ottaway, Travel Assistance Manager from LB Lewisham, they discuss what has been so different about commissioning this year, focusing specifically on summer route planning.

See here if you missed part one: Commissioning in Transport: The Realities of summer pressures.

  • What has been different about this summer?

Wendy Hall: So, we had an option that we could load onto a template which could go on to SProc.Net, however to pull that template together would have taken just as long as it did take to produce an individual requirement for each route so that was a pathway we went down. With the benefit of hindsight, next year I will do a bit more preparation around getting the stuff ready for the service agreement (SA) and having that prepared at the same time, but that’s now with the benefit of hindsight.

Everything has run really nicely and smoothly, we’re ploughing through the SA’s now, we’re just putting odd requirements out that’s either changed or was cancelled in error or was overlooked the first time round and it is working really, really smoothly. And the providers seem happy, we haven’t seen any queries really.

Keith Ottaway: One particular company, they’re just across the road, they have won a lot of work and we were looking at it and thought they had come in really quite low on some of these and we were a bit worried. So, we walked across the road and met them last week and I came away feeling really positive because they understand what they have bid for and knows what he’s talking about in terms of able to deliver the required service because he’s been doing it for a while.

So we know that in September, that first week of school, there is going to be many phone calls and there is going to be things that don’t work out which is the world we’re working in, you’re working with children who have complex needs who don’t always deal with change well. You know there’s going to be issues but all you can do is prepare as well as possible to minimise those and then just deal with them as they come and that’s just what September is.

 

"Since I came here and first heard about adam I’ve always had this, and don’t take this in the wrong way, I’ve always sort of felt ‘where’s the catch?’ because it sounds too good to be true!"

 

But in terms of SProc.Net, I think it’s been really good. Since I came here and first heard about adam I’ve always had this, and don’t take this in the wrong way, I’ve always sort of felt ‘where’s the catch?’ because it sounds too good to be true! And so far, it’s working very well.

Wendy Hall: It’s been met with everything we have been promised and even if there has been, as with anything, there are teething problems and little glitches, there is always someone at the end of the phone.

Keith Ottaway: And there are parts of the system, that we’ll say to you, as it’s a partnership that it would be really helpful if we had a button that could do this and hopefully that can be developed over time. But where we are right now with SProc.Net as it is right now, we’re happy. It looks as if it’s going to produce not only the savings we wanted but also the competition.

  • Are you closer to your objectives following the work you have been doing with us?

Keith Ottaway: Most definitively, financially absolutely, timewise without a doubt in terms of man hours it’s a huge yes. This particular period and we’re going to have to accept that this time of year, loading the requirements and then allocating the routes that’s going to be quite labour intensive and we’re all going to have to chip in every year, but then once that’s out the way and throughout the year it takes the pressure off.

The team used to have piles and mountains of invoices on the desk and that’s now gone. That would be all that they were doing, it was a full-time job, they would come in, do invoices and then go home every day

Wendy Hall: Which as you can imagine was brain-numbingly boring for them!

 

"The team used to have piles and mountains of invoices on the desk and that’s gone and that would be all that they were doing, it was a full-time job, they would come in, do invoices and then go home every day"

 

Keith Ottaway: That has totally gone now and they’re very happy about that as you can imagine. So it’s so far so good. We are yet to hit a hurdle that hasn’t been quite easily negotiated. We feel confident that as and when those problems come up, the support is there from adam and we feel confident that those problems will be dealt with appropriately as and when they come up. 

Wendy Hall: Timely as well, which is really good. As in if we raise something it is dealt with quickly and efficiently.

  • Do you feel like you have more support than last year?

Wendy Hall: Yeah that’s it, even live chat I mean just to say to a provider who may not be IT savvy and to say to them to look in the left-hand corner and there’s live chat from adam where you can go on and talk to someone in the support team. So, just type in your questions, no question is too simplistic for them to answer because every question is valid and it’s nothing they haven’t heard before so don’t worry just do it. We don’t get anything from providers, they’re really good and we get some really nice feedback.

There’s one particular Support Consultant on the live chat who we get some really nice feedback from. Quite a few of the providers have said to me that when we get him and you know it’s going to be sorted straight away because he takes the time to explain it to the suppliers and it’s not just he’ll fix it, but he’ll explain why that happened and he’s very thorough about it.

  • How engaged and happy are providers compared to last year?

Wendy Hall: The majority of them are really, really happy, a few of them are a bit rattled because they haven’t got the volume of work that they’ve had in the past but that’s because they’re not competitive.

Keith Ottaway: This is because they have been in a closed market, and it literally was a closed market because once that framework is closed that was it, it was totally closed so they were in a very secure position which probably started to become more and more evident in their prices. They did work well with us, don’t get me wrong, they were good partners but now they are having to accept that things change and there is more competition and hopefully they will adjust appropriately and they’ll start coming back with more suitable bids.

I think everyone is pleased with it and like I say we’ve got a lot of new providers. Whenever you do something like this you have to accept that a lot of people will be put out and you can’t help that. What I think is positive is that we’ve got some new people on board and they seem really proactive, wanting to engage and that’s what you want, of course, the proof is in the pudding and whilst the bids are great, we won’t know until they start transporting the children.

 

"What’s great about adam, should we get midway through September and a route isn’t working we can go straight back and say OK there was number 2 and there was number 3, we’ve got it there and we can go to another provider and say you bid for this one, are you still willing to do it for that price"

 

Like we said with some of the bids looking quite cheap, we still have got to at least give them a chance, they’ve come in and abided by the process by registering and providing all the right documentation and done everything we’ve asked of them, they’ve bid for the job knowing what they were bidding for so it’s up to them to make it work.

What’s great about adam, should we get midway through September and a route isn’t working we can go straight back and say OK there was number 2 and there was number 3. Which means we can go to another provider and say you bid for this one, you finished 2nd-3rd are you still willing to do it for that price and go for that. Which is another good thing we’ve got it all there in terms of who bid what and then we can just put a requirement directly out to that particular provider. So yes, it all seems good, I’m trying to think of a negative but I can’t!!

Wendy Hall: We don’t have to scope out from scratch anymore. 

  • How are the results? Are you seeing and able to better manage more offers, routes and reallocations?

Keith Ottaway: Results are looking very good.

Wendy Hall: They are, they’re looking really promising, really promising and it looks like we’re going to achieve what we hoped for in savings, we’ve already achieved the savings in man hours.

Keith Ottaway: That is a significant thing because the team will basically be in new jobs, they were taped to their desks which won’t be required anymore.

Wendy Hall: It’s a win-win.

Keith Ottaway: Not only in terms of the actual offers and the savings and the savings to the providers but actually, savings in terms of our man hours are significant.

Wendy Hall: We’re freeing up at least one week a month of their time, at least, I’d lean more towards two weeks of their time. 

Keith Ottaway: I think that's reasonable.

Wendy Hall: Because they were constantly, constantly every minute of every day doing invoices and anything that came in was a distraction, you then get errors, so doing the actual day job we were dragging them away from it which again opened the door to make errors.

 

"We’re freeing up at least one week a month of their time, at least, I’d lean more towards two weeks of their time"

 

Keith Ottaway: It also involved more people because one person would get the invoice, scan it, process it and then it would go to the next person who would do this and that and then it would all go over to central finance who would lose it or forget to pay it or it would have the wrong P&O.

Wendy Hall: Or they put the wrong amount in.

Keith Ottaway: There were so many ways it could go wrong and then every time something went wrong, that meant it was going to get chased up so it would come back.

Wendy Hall: So, you’re rehashing it all over again 3,4,5 times.

Keith Ottaway: You’d then have providers chasing up the same figures and that's all gone now, it has completely changed.

It’s all now going through one system, SProc.Net, the finance bit they don’t have to do much because they get one thing that comes through for them that needs to be released so it’s a different world, it’s all going well in that sense.

  • Are you seeing more competitive bids and providers rebidding?

Wendy Hall: We limited it to two bids, we tied it down so they could only revisit once. We wanted them to put in their best, best price for the first time, but if they saw that they were near the top they could adjust it. 

We just wanted them to put in their best price that they can do the route for, sustainably throughout the year and to have a little bit of wriggle room if they wanted that job, to make a minor adjustment.

 

"The key to it is sustainability, the fact that they can carry out that work, still have enough to pay their drivers and their escorts a decent, proper wage and still have a bit of profit in them for them but not to be milking the council"

 

Keith Ottaway: Equally we intend to engage with them in maybe October, November because I’m keen to get them in. I do intend on showing them some stuff in terms of the odd route, some example routes and this is the sort of price that did win and this is the sort of bids that we were getting that were way above.

Wendy Hall: The key to it is sustainability, the fact that they can carry out that work, still have enough to pay their drivers and their escorts a decent, proper wage and still have a bit of profit in them for them. 

 

  • How are savings, are you meeting your target now using the new approach?

Keith Ottaway: We certainly look like we’re meeting targets, we’re hopeful and I don’t want to say any figures because we don’t know yet exactly how that’s going to come out in the wash. It was looking initially when we first started looking at it we thought that we might be over our target so saving more than we thought we would but I don’t want to commit to that until we see the whole picture. However, we are very confident that our targets have been met and we’re hopeful and we’re quietly confident that we should be doing a nice bit more.

Wendy Hall: I think we had modest targets at first and I think we are easily going to achieve those.

 

"I think by the end of September, beginning of October things will have settled down and you can actually see where things are"

 

Keith Ottaway: Yeah, I think we purposely kept them because we didn’t want to over egg it without seeing it in action, where-as now we have a much better idea of what it can do. I think those modest targets are easily going to be met, we should and we’re hoping to make some more substantial savings which should please the people that hold the purse strings.

Wendy Hall: I think by the end of September, beginning of October things will have settled down and by that point, by the October half-term it tends to have settled down and you can actually see where things are.

Keith Ottaway: Yes, that’s when some of the routes might have failed etc. or moved around.

*Have you received any feedback from service users yet? *

Wendy Hall: No, it’s too soon yet.

Keith Ottaway: We’ve had a number of calls with people saying ‘we love our escort and our driver’ and ‘we don’t want it to change’ and ‘our child doesn’t like change’. However, whilst we understand that completely, my answer is that these things can always change and even if we stick with the same provider, that driver might move anything can happen and actually, the world does have changes in it and that’s a part of life and it’s about preparing them as best we can and obviously, the family have their part to play in that.

So, as long as the children are as prepared as best as possible and the new providers go out before terms starts to try and introduce themselves so they’re not a completely unknown. Children are obviously anxious on their first day of school, they’ve had a long summer, they’re going back to school, new class, new teacher and then this car turns up with a complete stranger that they’ve never seen before, that’s not ideal. So, we would certainly want the children to have a chance to see the driver and the escort beforehand, even if it’s just once for a quick hello.

Wendy Hall: I think with parents, they will soon let us know and it’s about managing expectation so we have to manage the expectation of our parents because they do want to have a bespoke service and it can’t always happen.

Keith Ottaway:, I think only now after all of the years of austerity measures, it only really seems to be getting Lewisham in a big way now in terms of these services, where-as other boroughs I’ve worked in it’s been going on for a lot longer.

Also, whilst looking at value, all of these providers are signing up to certain standards, so whoever is going to be taking your child will be CRB or DBS checked and will have this that and everything else. So, that’s again about the communication, about us talking with parents.

  • Thinking about this altogether, what would you say has been the biggest achievement since last year individually and as a team?

Wendy Hall: I think the biggest achievement is the implementation and how smoothly it went. It went like a dream. You would wait for it to come off the rails the whole time and it didn’t. It was so well managed. The implementation team at adam had targets, their logs, all their weekly aims on a week to week basis.

Keith Ottaway: I thought the Implementation Project Manager was brilliant, I was really impressed and thought they did a really good job.

Wendy Hall: We just breezed through it. The next thing is just how many people we’ve got on board, how many new providers we’ve got on board and actually to be in this situation now, this point in time without being in a meltdown is a major achievement because by now I would be having sleepless nights, feeling really anxious and fraught about it all.

Keith Ottaway: I would agree with all of that.

Wendy Hall: That would be my main achievement for this year, is the fact that we’ve got this up and running, that it’s gone so well and we’re moving forward and actually we will have more time to focus on things like compliance checks, monitoring, all of those things that when you’re trying to do the day job and you’re under that much strain and stress there the things that go out the window.

 

"I think the biggest achievement is the implementation and how smoothly it went. It went like a dream. You would wait for it to come off the rails the whole time and it didn’t. It was so well managed"

 

They are the things that are key to the safety of the children and the adults. Doing those compliance checks, doing the monitoring, having the relationships with parents, having the time to talk to parents, because they are our eyes and ears when we find out stuff. So if you haven’t got the time to talk to a parent and to make them feel at ease to share that with you because you’re rushing off to do something else, that’s key for me. It’s such a massive step forward and we haven’t been in that situation for years since we were a team of five.

Keith Ottaway: adam effectively is allowing us to have the time to completely change the service and having the team doing different things which will benefits hopefully the service and the service users. It’s only adam that have given us the time to do that. If it wasn’t for adam I simply wouldn’t be able to ask the guys to do more interesting stuff because they would be doing their invoices! So, that is because of SProc.Net.

  • Altogether, how has SProc.Net and the team helped Lewisham since implementation?

Keith Ottaway: Well there you go, it’s the man hours.

Wendy Hall: It’s given us back time and that is key. Time is precious, it really is.

Keith Ottaway: It’s something we’ll reverberate. What I think local authorities will also appreciate maybe more than people realise is the time, resources are really limited and I don’t mean the money I mean the actual people.

Wendy Hall: To get the better value out of that person’s time.

Keith Ottaway: To provide the best service, which is the thing, families want to be listened to and they want to be seen. So the way things have always been here is that transport just happened. The families would meet the SEN people but transport was just something that didn’t have face to face aspect to it. So you would get a decision and it would say something like ‘following an assessment we’re saying no basically’ and families would say ‘what assessment?’.

However, using adam, will allow us to get the team going out and seeing people and when you’ve got that face to face; it makes a massive difference both to the service users and it means you’re actually delivering a more appropriate service and you’re giving the service to the people that really need it and that’s key. So, I think the time is equally if not more important than the money.

 

"Using adam, will allow us to get the team going out and seeing people and when you’ve got that face to face; it makes a massive difference both to the service users and it means you’re actually delivering a more appropriate service and you’re giving the service to the people that really need it and that’s key"

 

Wendy Hall: We’ve had parents come in here, you can sit and talk to them for just 5 or 10 minutes and just seeing that child in reception it tells you something a from will never tell you. If you’re writing a form you’re not going to say you could probably go without it. So, you’re going to say this child can’t do this, so when we go downstairs and actually see a child in reception, holding mummy’s hand really nicely, calmly sitting there, it tells you a lot which you don’t see on a form.

Keith Ottaway: So, going out and actually seeing people is invaluable it really is and I think people feel that way because they feel listened to. I’ve had so many people say to me, even when you’re telling people something they don’t want to hear, even if you’re saying no to someone or telling them they can’t have exactly what they want, if you communicate it then they appreciate it.

So, it all comes back to that communication and time. Communication is key and to do communication, you need time and adam is giving us that time so for me that is a crucial element.

  • What recommendations would you make to other transport teams looking to improve summer tender rounds and reallocations?

Wendy Hall: To be organised.

Keith Ottaway: Give yourself plenty of time and have a timetable, I always find it on the 15th of June I need to have done this, so a clear timetable.

Wendy Hall: Have deadlines. Deadlines to work to are really good tools and to be organised but also to be flexible which is the other thing which is to think on your feet. You need to be able to think on your feet and look outside and change a couple of little things because you can actually side step and achieve a lot more so just be flexible.

We'd like to once again thank both Wendy and Keith for their time and for being so open about their journey so far.

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