From education to employment

Building Successful Supply Chain Partnerships

Kathryn Jellings FIEP is director of business development at 3SC

With the government wanting more SMEs involved in the delivery of public services, 3SC director Kathryn Jellings offers tips on how to build effective supply chains.

Providing information in a bid about a prime contractor’s prospective supply chain in a procurement for delivery of a public service is nothing new. It has for example been a long-standing feature of DWP tenders for the government’s main welfare-to-work programmes.

Occasionally there have been allegations that this part of the bidding process has amounted to little more than window-dressing to try and impress the programme commissioners and the skills sector has also had its share of subcontracting mishaps which have prompted the authorities to discourage subcontracting. If there are cases of window-dressing, it’s the wrong approach because a strong and effective supply chain can make a major difference in generating positive outcomes.

The need to form good supply chains is just about to become more important as a result of the government’s Procurement Bill which seeks more SME involvement in the delivery of public services. For 3SC, part of Twin Group, this would resonate with our vision of SMEs, particularly third sector organisations, delivering an increasing share of delivery and a greater degree of social impact.

As a social enterprise founded over 12 years ago, we have success and expertise in building and managing supply chains in relation to 30 public service contracts, passing on £94 million to our supply chains in the process. The approach results in a very sustainable model that supports communities and local organisations, as demonstrated by the fact that we have partnered with more than 2,209 delivery organisations in the justice, young people, disabilities and employability arenas.

Choosing the right partners

The partners in our supply chains comprise mostly charities, social enterprises and micro SMEs such as the neurodiversity strategy coaches supporting 3SC’s programme delivery for the DWP and the Probation Service. They all have in common being passionate mission-driven organisations with a culture and mission which matches our own.

The size and provision of the third sector delivery partners and the services they deliver managed by 3SC varies greatly. They include small, innovation and grant-based services such as an equine therapy service in Hampshire to large ‘Through the Gate’ provision delivered across 18 prisons.

Before engaging with a partner, we have to be sure that they are an organisation with which we want to work. To allow us to concentrate on what we do best, we should know what we want from them and what they need from us.

From us, a partner can expect a clear understanding of where defined responsibilities lie and this requires us being upfront about our expectations. Quite rightly the partner wants prompt payments and it wants to be trusted.

In return, as well as possessing a ‘can do’ attitude, we want the partner organisation to do what is reasonably asked which includes a full understanding of what is required. We feel that the partner should be ready to make their own investment in high quality programme delivery and compliance, they should be honest with us and they must share good data throughout the programme.

An effective working partnership

For both the prime contractor and a supply chain partner, there should be mutual obligations which start with standing together and a willingness to see the big picture. In basic terms, this means knowing what the contract requires from the partnership and this in turn means meeting targets.

Neither party wants micro-management within the supply chain, but at the same time, 3SC expects a partner to ask for help when it needs it. This might be when the partner is struggling to deliver on its agreed outcomes. Forecasting an issue ahead and signalling it to the prime contractor is also appreciated. If a partner feels that it is not being fairly treated, it should raise the matter.

For successful programme delivery, maintaining good relationships within a supply chain is essential. It is reasonable to expect the prime contractor to lend their experience and expertise to the other partners, but equally the partners should be ready to offer solutions of their own when issues come up.

Just a start

The Procurement Bill should enable more SMEs to become involved in public service delivery and

3SC has established a membership scheme where SMEs including supply chain partners can access support.

Members can take advantage of improved bidding capacity, better contract delivery readiness and access to a proven IT framework for delivery reporting purposes. They can gain access to business support and guidance across many areas including funding, marketing and social impact evaluation, as well as participating in face-to-face and virtual events offering top tips on for example winning bids, delivering high quality programmes and working successfully with prime contractors.

For more information, visit: 3SC – Partnerships with Purpose.

Kathryn Jellings FIEP is director of business development at 3SC

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