COVID-19 may have brought about some unique procurement challenges. But as Mark Holt, Commercial Manager at Procure Plus, explains, some welcome opportunities for change have arisen, too
How has your relationship with contractors changed over the course of the pandemic?
Our relationship with contractors has been enhanced considerably during the pandemic. The main issue for contractors was the uncertainty of how the lockdowns would affect ongoing work in terms of volumes and types of work.
We have been meeting with them regularly to feedback what the landlords and supply chain have been saying and doing and their concerns. This enabled the contractors to adapt and evolve to be able to address these concerns head on.
Our exposure to contractors, landlords, and suppliers has enabled us to facilitate collaboration between all parties to develop safe methods of working during the pandemic; and this has paid dividends in Lockdown Three as everything was already in place to safely start back straight after Christmas.
How has the way in which contractors work changed over the course of the pandemic?
The pandemic forced contractors to really break down how they carried out tasks understanding how much interaction their teams had on a daily with each other, with the supply chain, landlords, and customers.
“Our exposure to contractors, landlords, and suppliers has enabled us to facilitate collaboration between all parties to develop safe methods of working during the pandemic – this has paid dividends in Lockdown Three”
Whilst doing this, the majority analysed how efficient the tasks were and how they could do them better under the constraints of the pandemic. I think this learning has been carried through and will put them in a better place for the future.
How have the concerns of the contractors you engage with changed over the course of the pandemic? Has this latest lockdown renewed old concerns or brought about new ones?
When the first lockdown was announced, the initial response was to safely close down the sites, and then the fear was around paying people’s wages. When furlough was announced, the contractors breathed a sigh of relief, and then started to look at their fixed costs and overheads.
I believe many of them have looked at these costs during the year and how necessary they are, and have started to change how they run these elements accordingly. Some contractors have also started to diversify the work streams they carry out if they were over reliant on internal works; they have started to identify skillsets and how they can be employed on other workstreams.
They are all confident they can continue working safely during Lockdown Three, and the new concerns are around access and also landlords starting to put internal projects on hold indefinitely.
Do you feel as though contractors have acclimatised to regular lockdowns, that they are now better prepared than they were at the start of the pandemic?
Contractors have safe working practices in place to continue to work in a lockdown scenario. They have had to close down sites and bring them back up and running in short time periods, and again are more prepared to do this efficiently.
Cost will become more of an issue going forward, as although the contractors are more prepared to work in this way, there is always a cost associated with the stopping and starting of projects, and this will inevitably affect the numbers of properties completed.
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To when extent is Brexit, now that it’s finally come into effect, affecting the ability to purchase and acquire goods?
At this time, we are not seeing massive changes from the supply chain around availability and price of products. There was a lot of nervousness and uncertainty until the trade deal was reached. But since the announcement, the supply chain seems more comfortable.
We are still seeing issues getting products through the ports and also with logistics, but this can be attributed more to COVID-19 than Brexit, with the average consumer increasing their online purchasing during lockdown.
What issues do you see potentially arising in the short-term?
The supply chain could be an issue if we see the kind of demand peaks we did after Lockdown One. The majority of the housing sector postponed internal investment programmes and replaced them with externals such as roofing, and this effected the availability of both products and labour in the short-term when all parties were desperate to start back up.
“The sector will come out of this stronger and will not revert back to old ways of working – COVID-19 has given contractors the time and space to really question how they conduct their work”
Although not ideal, contractors can stop and start projects; but moving all the demand to a small number of workstreams does cause issues. The next few weeks will be very telling.
Do you see procurement ever going back to how it was before the pandemic?
I think the sector will come out of this stronger and will not revert back to old ways of working. COVID-19 has given contractors the time and space to really question how they conduct their work, and the longer-term efficiencies that have been identified will remain and continue to evolve. I think the same can be said about organisations like ourselves.
We have started to question how we do things, how we could do them better, and the lessons learned will continue to be implemented in the future.
Procure Plus is a Housing Digital Stakeholder who specialises in the procurement of goods and services for both new-build housing and repairs and maintenance for a wide range of social housing clients.
Image: Mark Holt, Commercial Manager, Procure Plus
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