Can you tell us about the contract and how it came together?
We were awarded the contract in 2012, for Hastings Borough Council, Rother District Council and AmicusHorizon Housing Association. Initially the contracts made £300,000 worth of savings, possibly up to £500,000, as a result of putting the contract out. There were challenges at the start: initially we had four sets of workforces coming in, with 100 people transferring in from four different employers into one unified depot. It took some time to get the workforce into a unified one-contractor approach, and there was a large amount of upskilling we had to do with the staff. Some were very well qualified but others were not, so it started right at the beginning, a large training programme to get everyone to the required level. Obviously at point of tender, there were changes to the contract from the previous incumbents – even getting staff to operate in the required way for the new contract was quite a challenge.
What does the contract consist of primarily?
We do parks, open spaces, park-keeping, waterways management, litter clearance, graffiti removal, normal open spaces maintenance, grass-cutting, shrub maintenance, and the sea fronts. Hastings and Bexhill have quite large chunks of sea frontage to maintain. In 2015 we took over the maintenance of Hastings Country Park – we added it onto the contract but that is high level stewardship – it’s not just a standard grass cutting contract, the range of activities is quite diverse.
When did the contract come into operation?
We were up and running within the first season, and it probably took us about 12 months to get into our stride. Within our first six months we put in our PQMS monitoring system, which is a our bespoke monitoring system which all the partners have adopted. From that, we have seen a year-on-year improvement in scores.
On a day-to-day basis, what kind of operation is it management wise?
We have a strong management team, we have a contract manager who manages the daily operation, I’m the general manager and I run the strategic elements of the contract. We have a partnership board which is made up of three sets of clients and ourselves. We have a service delivery manager and supervisor for each of the disciplines, between us managing 50 full timers on the staff, and we have around 30 seasonals.
When you’re competing for a contract like this, what are they looking for?
Idverde have the right approach – we deliver quality, and that is demonstrated across a lot of contracts. We’re innovative with our systems, in particular the PQMS monitoring system is popular with most of our clients, and it involves joint monitoring with the client. The system generates the sites that you need to inspect at any given time – you’re not necessarily measuring specification, but you’re going out with a fresh pair of eyes, and you are measuring it to see if it is an ‘acceptable’ quality.
The test really is to ask if you were in the public would you be satisfied by what you’re seeing. If something scores low, it has an action on it, and that shows us through data what could be the right areas of improvement for us, but also it could be something for the client to undertake to bring up the general quality of the site. We’re getting to a position where residents are coming out and looking at things with us, we want as broad a scope of people as possible to measure the quality and monitoring with us. It is coordinated and each client is different in how they want to implement it – for instance one council might have residents involved, or they may have professionals or any other group contribute to the monitoring. To make the system work you need as many different types of user groups monitoring as possible.
Bringing four separate work forces together – they’re not all your employees?
Obviously they were TUPE’d workforce from different workforces, they have come in to us with their terms and conditions. As with all workforces, some are better skilled than others, some employers put more emphasis on training than others. Some were very good and some were quite poor.
How does it compare with other work you’ve done?
It’s big, and a very diverse contract. For instance there are 11km of waterways we manage as part of the contract, a sports provision here is a big thing, so you have to be successful in this contract, you have to have mastered many parts of the industry. We’re lucky because one person can’t know everything, but through the mix of the management team we have covered all the aspects of the contract. We all have our specialisms.
How long does it last?
Initially 10 years with the possibility of a two-year extension.
What about your career background?
I’ve been with Idverde for five years, but I have been in the industry since I left school – I came through a YTS apprenticeship. I have always been in the grounds maintenance world, my apprenticeship was on a golf course, then I came through into mainstream authority contracting.
Anything you would like to add?
I would like to point in particular to the development work we have undertaken with Hastings Borough Council. Hastings are dynamic in their approach to contracts, and they have given us massive free rein to identify areas for improvement, right through concept, design and implementation. We have done some quite big projects with them – we redeveloped the whole of the seafront in Hastings. Everything along the seafront was bedding, and with our work we have gone over to sustainable planting there. It has been a hit with the public here, with so many compliments, both directly and for the council. Our green waste is all processed – we do that ourselves, and put back into contract.
This feature first appeared in the April 2017 issue of Landscape Insight.