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Associate feature: Scotland Excel is ready to support the public sector with the challenges it faces post COVID-19

Associate feature: Scotland Excel is ready to support the public sector with the challenges it faces post COVID-19

In the past few years, councils have experienced increasingly stretched budgets, but due to the onset of coronavirus this has become even more acute, with the loss of income from paid facilities coupled with the increased pressures of continuing to provide key services through the outbreak. Right now, financial efficiencies have never been so vital as the sector moves towards recovery.

This is an area that local government shared service Scotland Excel specialises in. It has worked closely with councils during the pandemic and is ready to work with them and the wider public sector on the recovery. 

Scotland Excel chief executive Julie Welsh tells Holyrood: “We’re funded by all 32 councils and are very proud to be part of Scottish local government. It performed extremely well during the pandemic; providing care, education and waste services is challenging at the best of times, but councils have gone above and beyond in supporting their citizens.”

Scotland Excel’s services include a portfolio of frameworks worth £2bn covering key areas such as care and construction. During the outbreak Scotland Excel offered free associate membership to public and third sector organisations so that they could utilise its portfolio in areas like PPE, food and janitorial supplies. That meant that if they didn’t have their own contracts in place, they could access the goods they needed quickly to help with re-opening. But coming out of the pandemic, Welsh believes more support will be needed.

“We recognise that councils are worrying about the financial challenges that the immediate recovery and further post-COVID planning will bring, and I think these are likely to be crippling for local government. It’s not just what they’ve had to spend that wasn’t in their budget to support their citizens, it’s the loss of income from things like parking and leisure centres being shut, so they’re going to need all the help they can get.”

Scotland Excel has revamped some of its existing services and introduced new ones around helping councils and its associate members meet the challenges they now face. For example, the Scotland Excel Academy delivers accredited training in procurement, leadership and management, and that has been adapted to be delivered online. It also offers consultancy services in a number of areas including social care, and previous consultancy projects for councils has delivered multi-million pounds of savings. 

“We currently provide consultancy services across a number of councils and the key focus of these particular projects is helping them to save money, find resource efficiencies and improve performance,” Welsh says. “And that’s resulted in savings in every single project that we do. We’re now offering a new service to benchmark and carry out further negotiations with suppliers.”

Scotland Excel has also been commissioned to carry out work on behalf of the Scottish Government in early years and housing.

Care is a key area. With care costs continuously rising, Scotland Excel offers a new service to councils to review all care spend and contracts. Welsh says this is not just about saving money, it’s about making sure rates are sustainable, cost effective and are of the highest possible standards for those receiving care.

Scotland Excel can carry out tendering and other procurement services on behalf of local government and the wider public sector. It also has staff currently embedded in councils working on everything from improving contract management, developing teams, and delivering savings targets, to completely transforming one council’s commercial approach. 

In terms of saving the sector money coming out of the pandemic, Scotland Excel can check that organisations are using frameworks effectively by choosing the most cost-effective supplier, advise on the range of goods or services being bought or look at whether the councils should be negotiating more with suppliers. 

“Every project we’ve done to date has delivered savings, so we set out our stall to that effect to say we’re coming in to help you save money and resources that can be redirected to other areas,” says Welsh.

Every project we’ve done to date has delivered savings

But there’s more than savings. Scotland Excel’s frameworks incorporate other priorities around delivering additional benefits too, for example, environmental sustainability or local jobs. And national frameworks can still deliver local benefits. This will be key as councils begin to look at new means of boosting economic growth through community wealth building.
Scotland Excel has been measuring community benefits since 2013. So far these have included 821 new jobs, almost 70,000 hours of work experience and £1.5m of other benefits. They also provide a consultancy service to help councils and associate members increase how much they spend with local suppliers. 

Scotland Excel is already working hard on securing local spend. Of the £7.4bn spent by local government in 2018-19, around a quarter was spent within each council’s own area and more than three quarters of Scotland Excel’s suppliers are SMEs – over 80 per cent of which are Scottish. However, the community wealth building agenda is much more detailed, Welsh says.
She explains: “What I want us to do, and we’re starting to do, is to look at our services and frameworks through the lens of community wealth building. Public procurement has a crucial role to play in redirecting value back to local communities and local economies, but we need a stronger focus on this when contracts are being developed. 

“For every framework we put in place, we spend a lot of time developing its strategy. This includes setting out how we’ll evaluate in terms of how the tender will be scored when it comes back to us. Will we focus our efforts on environmental benefits, will we focus our effort on community benefits? What we need to do now post COVID is ask how a particular framework can support communities and where the focus should lie. 

“Sometimes it will be jobs and apprenticeships, but it could also be by getting a commitment to pay the real living wage to local staff. It could be about suppliers committing to spend money with other local suppliers and their supply chains. And it could be about green recovery and environmental benefits.  So if we’re going to do things through a community wealth building lens, then we need to be more focused at targeting our efforts on what will be best for a particular community when we put a framework in place.”

Scotland Excel may be unique in the UK in delivering national contracts for care services. It developed its first care contract in 2012 in children’s services and learning from that, then branched into national commissioning services in adult and older people’s care, most notably care homes and care and support at home. It is working with councils to adopt its new care and support framework, which has sustainable rates as well as other policy benefits, and this month it will recommence negotiations for the Scottish national care home contract.

The care and support framework is the first of its kind and it was a “massive undertaking”, says Welsh. Launched in April, it aims to provide choice and value for money in the whole sphere of adult care services, but it is also underpinned by the health and social care standards and supports Scottish Government’s health and social care policy and visions such as self-directed support and avoiding delayed discharge from hospital.

In addition, one aspect of the framework that is unique is that rather than being closed for the duration of the contract, it is opened up regularly to allow new providers to come on board. This gives a wider range of care providers the opportunity to work with health and social care partnerships.

This specialist knowledge of care services is particularly relevant in light of the First Minister’s recent announcement in the programme for government of a review of the adult social care sector in Scotland, and Scotland Excel is keen to offer its knowledge to the government as well as councils.

Welsh says: “We believe we’ve got a really positive role to play both nationally and locally. Following Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement, we await with interest the output from that review, and hopefully we will have a role to play in whatever that national care service might look like.

We certainly have lots of expertise, knowledge and statistical information in that area that could help us and help the government to deliver this.”

Going forward, Scotland Excel intends to grow its services to fit demand, but also wants to be the partner of choice for councils, their “first port of call” for procurement, consultancy, and learning and development, because it is very much part of local government, reporting to a joint committee of councillors. 

Welsh says: “We’re here to help our council members, associates and other public sector bodies, and there are definitely existing and future challenges, but my own opinion is that these come with massive opportunities for our sector. I’ve got an aspiration that Scotland Excel is the partner of choice for not just local government but the wider public sector during this recovery period and hopefully beyond.”  

This piece was sponsored by Scotland Excel

Read the most recent article written by Staff reporter - Road to recovery: Q&A with Fiona Hyslop

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