During ATCO’s #BackToBasics Transport event earlier in November, David Prior, DPS Implementation Manager at Haringey Borough Council made the trip from London to talk to members about Haringey’s approach to commissioning SEN & Passenger Transport.
Can you tell us about SEN transport in Haringey?
“Haringey is a very flat borough, it’s quite wide. It stretches in the east into one of the most socially deprived areas of London, right across to Highgate and Hornsey in the west, which is one of if not the most affluent areas.
“We have 550 SEN Children and 120 Adults”
The people in the west, travel to SEN schools in the east and those in the east, travel to SEN schools in the west. We have about 550 SEN children and about 120 adults with learning difficulties. We don’t transport mainstream children, at all.”
What are some of the challenges faced in Haringey?
“Transport, wherever it travels has to put up with the road conditions. We’ve heard about it this morning, Haringey is a congested borough.
“The main challenge was the supply of vehicles and people”
We seem to have a lot of the taxi type operators, we don’t seem to have many of the PCV operators; we certainly haven’t in-borough. Our three main suppliers are also just beyond the boundaries of Waltham Forest and Enfield.
The main challenge was the supply of vehicles and people.”
What did commissioning look like at Haringey before working with adam?
“We were operating on a framework agreement, it was the third framework agreement we had been operating. We had gone into that framework agreement with nine operators, two of them had fallen on the wayside into administration and one of them operated about a third of our routes and I can remember a February half-term, on the first day of half-term seeing them go into administration. This meant we had to retender about a third of our routes, which was about 35-40 routes over that half-term.
“We had problems with suppliers, because we didn’t have enough of them”
So, we had problems with suppliers because we didn’t have enough of them. The vehicle fleets that we did have and some of them were 12-15-year-old vehicles. The main issues we had were breakdowns, either in the morning, especially this time of year with a drop of frost. Vehicles wouldn’t start or on route, so they would get to school and then we would get a phone call from the school telling us that a vehicle has broken down on our forecourt, please sort this out.
So, the quality of the service we were providing was not that good.
Our framework restricted us to just using those providers on it. We certainly, in a couple of cases, were procuring smaller vehicles because we didn’t have the capacity in larger vehicles to accommodate what we were looking for. Which meant there were cost implications with that.”
How did the framework impact small and medium sized businesses?
“There was certainly no encouragement for the smaller operators when using a framework. We did take plenty of phones calls from people who wanted to know how they could deliver services for us. Sadly, it was restrictive because we couldn’t go to those suppliers however good they were until that framework ended.”
How did Haringey commission the routes at that time?
“We had a large Excel spreadsheet, which contained all of our routes. When we wanted to procure a service, it was an email that went out to those contractors who could provide the type of vehicle we were looking for and then we would hope that we received a reply saying they had a vehicle and a driver available, with the price.
“The approach wasn’t fit for what we wanted it to do”
So, we were very much at the behest of operators, what they could provide and how much they were going to charge for it.
Basically, the approach wasn’t fit for what we wanted it to do. The quality that these providers were giving us wasn’t what we wanted to do. Especially with the money we were paying, we weren’t getting the quality back for that.”
What was the decision to improve the approach?
“One of my colleagues in procurement had attended an event in central London, she had heard about this thing called a DPS and came back to the office and was quite excited about it. We had a presentation delivered to us, from another council who was going through the process of looking at a DPS and it seemed to fit what we wanted.
“The DPS seemed to be an answer to our problems”
The framework element of commissioned organisations with this open-ended ability to add in extra providers at any point in time. So, it seemed to be an answer to our problems which had been going on for the last 8 to 10 years.”
What was the process for improving?
“Our framework was naturally coming to an end, so we would have had to either commission a new framework or look at something else. We contacted adam because the presentation that was done in London, was presented by them.
So, we started discussions with adam and looked at what the DPS through their Digital Commissioning Technology could provide to us that was different to the framework. Having come from a contractor background, I could see the benefits including the way a service is put out to market.
Taxi and bus services are also fairly IT savvy, they have booking apps now. All of their customers are encouraged to book their journeys online. So for the organisation, the resistance to go to an IT solution wasn’t necessarily there.
“We were also quite keen it was an end-to-end process”
However, there was a lot of resistance from in the council. For example, colleagues in my team were quite resistant to changing the way things had been done. But, they could see the benefits of the way the system was set-up, the way requirements were put out on the system and then how those requirements can be converted to a contract to a service agreement. And then the way that the service agreement can be managed on the system, with that contractor.
We were also quite keen that it was an end-to-end process. The supplier engagement, we had the seven contractors who were on our framework agreement, six of them wanted to come onto the DPS. One provided Passenger Transport who happened to be a removals company, with a Passenger Transport arm and they moved away from that.
We also had so many other local operators who wanted to join and deliver services. One of our council objectives was to encourage local businesses, local SMEs and to make sure that Haringey money was spent in Haringey. Part of the supplier engagement, although the OJEU notice is published to all, the targeting of our supplier engagement was to local operators who could provide what we wanted.”
What has been the process so far?
“We are 18 months down the line, our DPS came in during April 2016. We ran April to re-procuring our September STAR routes, just buying in ad-hoc services. So, for the rest of the council there may be journeys that are required for their social work team. We went in with a very soft start so operators could get used to how the system worked, how they responded to requirements, how the supplier agreements were created and how they got paid.
“We went in with a very soft start”
At Haringey, we changed the way suppliers were paid. We moved from 30-day payment terms on invoices, over to paying them weekly through the system. As they provide a service for us, the onus is them, on the supplier to service receipt to say that they have done that service. We then check that to see if it is correct and authorise that payment. We then pay adam and adam pays the supplier. Once they are into the four-week cycle, they are being paid on a weekly basis.
If a service doesn’t run on a given day or if we have an issue with a service that has run, we can put a block on them saying that they have done that and they won’t get paid for it. So, there are checks in the system that make sure they are only paid for the work that they carry out.”
How do you now manage quality with a diverse supply base?
“So, the change from the framework agreement to the DPS, also brought about a change in the specification. We brought in age limits on our vehicles and we also brought in, what I call my menu. Under the framework agreement, if a contractor had infringed in some way, the penalty was very much an arbitrary one either by myself of by one of my colleagues based on how we felt that contractor should be dealt with.
Under the DPS, we brought in a ‘menu’. This was the ‘common offenses’ as we call them which formed our penalty point system. For example, if they broke down on route, they received two penalty points and this would work right the way through to operating an unlicensed vehicle, which would be a straight forward default. When a provider hits 20 points, they receive a warning letter, after three letters then the last route would be taken from them.
If they received three letters, they were also restricted from bidding for any further work, for 90 days. This meant that those operators that could talk a good presentation and Accreditation and Enrolment to get onto the system, but couldn’t actually deliver services, were soon found out and they were restricted in the amount of work that they were given. We reinforced this approach with spot inspections at schools.
All the escorts in Haringey are council employed, so we had a lot of feedback from escorts when vehicles turned up and they weren’t in road worthy conditions. So, if they were dirty, if there were driver infringements for example, trying to use the phone, or anything like that, which would all be fed back to us and we could investigate it. If necessary, with that information, we could impose penalties.
“We are now paying for the best quality we can afford”
Further down the line, we have also added in rewards if contractors go through a quarter and have had no infringements or minimal infringements. Their quality score, which comes right from the day they join the DPS, is actually enhanced.
So, quality score plus prices gives us our quality metric which will determine which provider the requirement should go to.
We are now paying for the best quality that we can afford.
It’s also transparent, in terms of if I impose a penalty point on a contractor, it’s on their record, they can see why we have imposed it. We can then reinforce that with regular meetings with contractor.
The Digital Commissioning Technology allows the two-way flow of documents. So, every year we request data on the contractor, vehicles that they have in use, drivers, DBS numbers, and things like that. All that data is stored on the system, we can comment on it and share it amongst the team and the contractor can see any comments that they have received relating to that.”
How have the team at Haringey found the commissioning improvements?
“From Haringey staff, they now like the system. I’m also involved with a number of other DPS’ through the adam technology within Haringey and the resistance with the staff there has been less. They have actually been very vocal in the way they want to set the system up which is most beneficial to them and they’re now on board with it and like the way it works. They certainly wouldn’t want to go back to framework a agreement.
“They certainly wouldn’t want to go back to a framework agreement”
Also from the contractor’s point of view, they wouldn’t want to go back to the way it was before. The way we put our requirements out for a service, its set out in a particular way, every contractor is quoting on the same basis and they can see where all their service agreements are. They can manage their contracts with us, through the system.”
What results have Haringey seen so far?
“In the first year, bearing in mind we also do an optimisation process for the September routes and that has to be factored into that, we reported savings like for like in the order of £350,000.
Year two, we again confused the situation even more as a lot of our routes went over to centralised pick-ups. So, we combined routes and larger vehicles and that has generated savings in the region of £100,000.
Some of that is down to the DPS and some of that is down to the other factors within the department. Our budget certainly goes further now. We have been able to optimise the team from seven to four people and with those four people, we are able to deliver the same service.
In terms of invoice reconciliation, we used to ask our contractors to send their paper invoices by the 4th of every month. We used to have two contractors where the invoice would be on your doorstep on the 4th and the rest would dribble in during the month, we would look at those, correct them and send them back.
“We have doubled provider capacity”
Over the course of a month it could take two people the equivalent of a week and a half to two weeks to reconcile those invoices and get them resolved ready for payment.
Under the Digital Commissioning Technology, we have one member of staff which does the initial check on the service receipts and that takes about three hours on a Tuesday morning. So, we’re looking at 120 routes, regular routes, plus upwards of 40 to 50 ad-hoc journeys a week and then there is a second checking process by a manager for authorisation, which takes 2 to 3 hours.
That happens on a Monday to Tuesday, the invoice file is finalised at midnight on a Tuesday night going into Wednesday. We then have the invoice from adam on our desk at 09:00 Wednesday morning, which we then authorise for payment. As I say, we pay adam and adam pay our subcontractors.
In terms of choice of providers, we have gone from 7 in our framework agreement to an initial 11 on the DPS, which doesn’t sound like a huge increase in numbers, but in vehicle capacity it doubled.
So, we had far more access to PCV vehicles and we had operators that were capable of providing everything from taxis, right the way through to 49 seater coaches and the ability to mix it up in-between which we didn’t have before.”
I’m interested to hear you say that your service providers are all IT literate and capable because a conversation with members of our procurement team recently indicated that they might not be. So, the question is, do you have any tips or hints to help persuade my procurement team that taxi companies do know what computers look like!?
“They just need to visit taxi companies. All of their dispatches are through computerised systems. Most drivers, if you jump in a taxi now-a-days, gone are the days when I was involved in taxis would use radios, it’s all done by mobile phone.
Taxi companies and bus companies are far more IT literate than ever before.
Really, people need to get out there and see it.”
One of the areas I’ve picked up on, is the role culture plays when any improvements are made to commissioning. Not just in transport either, but across Health & Social Care. My question is, how important do you think the cultural aspect is?
“Very much so, there is always a resistance to change and questions around why change? You receive comments such as ‘We’ve had it for the last 8 years and it’s ‘worked’.
So, we’ve made sure that there’s been total buy-in by all the stakeholders from day one.
With transport, we held 5 events before the main supplier engagement event. With residential and nursing care, we made sure all of our internal stakeholders were involved and all had a say and they were all seeing the test systems as we were building them. We also involved our providers in those test systems as well and we got their feedback on:
whether they could use it and could give us a price based on the information that we gave them and
what would they like to see, we all think that we give out the right information that they can price but what information do they want to see so they can give us an accurate price that means they can operate that service on day one and they don’t have to keep coming back to us and asking questions about it.
So, we involved all of those people in the whole process.
With residential and nursing in particular, we believe we have done the best job of implementing any of our DPS’ to date. This is because we involved all the stakeholders early and throughout the entire process. As well as training, ensuring there are enough training sessions. As well as making sure the support from both the adam side and from the council side is there if someone has a query or if something doesn’t work and they need to receive an answer now and making sure all of that happens.
It’s all part of the ‘system’ that you have to consider, if you’re going to bring in a Digital Commissioning Technology.”
We’d like to thank David once again for making the trip up to Bedford for the ATCO conference.