A recent university of Salford event, The Future of Facilities Management in the Public Sector, explored the problem of ineffective public facilities and had speakers proposing ideas to 'rationalise and transform' the sustainability of public sector FM operations. Jamie Harris picks out some of the day's key contributions.
11 May 2016 | By Jamie Harris
Shared services, linking agendas - And pressure to innovate
Public sector services are constantly under threat from economic, social and political factors, and that hinders FM's ability to innovate, claimed Glenn Woodhead, part of the estates team at the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.
"There are constantly elections going on," he said, "and constant changes, what with local elections and the EU referendum."
Despite changing politics and demographics, the desire to link facilities agendas with other units has stayed the same.
"We're looking at trying to join up the FM agenda with the carbon and air agenda. This is not easy to do - it might sound sensible to look at where the adjacencies are, but in reality, linking those agendas together is not straightforward. There's a lot of people looking after their own agendas so it is often very hard to join programmes together."
Woodhead referenced the project that saw three London boroughs join together to share back office functions and operate a shared delivery model, known as the tri-borough agreement. Several local authorities have since looked into sharing FM costs and services.
He said: "What we did in FM is drive together three very different estates with different cultures and delivery models - one of those councils had an outsourced model, another was very insourced. We had to join together and come up with a model that worked."
Future FM consideration:
The age of FM being driven by value, rather than cost, is still some way away, said Woodhead.
"We're still in the age of austerity - the funding gaps are still there, we are still being pressured in terms of more for less - that challenge, the idea of adding extra value, not accepting the lowest cost - I'm intrigued about how that's going to work. The reality is that our procurement issues don't really allow us to do those matters.".
Employers should set out to define FM skills
BIFM director of education Linda Hausmanis called for employers to become more involved in directing the sector in which skills they are looking for from the next generation of facilities managers. While apprenticeships in Germany are held in such high esteem, and there is parity between them and a university degree in the UK, question marks remain over the quality of apprenticeships and their connection to the workforce.
Hausmanis said: "One thing that concerns me about trailblazer apprenticeships is that they are driven by the number of three million by 2020 [the government has set a target for three million people to be in apprenticeships by the end of the decade]. I'd rather see 10 per cent of that figure, but see quality apprenticeships."
The skills problem is more deep-rooted within the school system, suggested Hausmanis.
"Money is going in, and then employers are claiming that [the skills gained by school leavers] are not what they want. They should be shaping those skills. There must be a breakdown of boundaries between education and employers."
More is required from government to make apprenticeships an attractive option, said Hausmanis.
"It's scandalous that apprentices are on £3.70 an hour [the national minimum wage] - no 15 year old will be excited by that."
FM procurement 'hinders' outsourcing
The procurement process in FM has become a hindrance to public sector outsourcing, according to Bellrock FM's CEO Martin Holt. He said there is often a lack of transparency in the FM industry, which hinders the flexibility of facilities and estates teams.
He said: "The whole procurement process gets in the way. From a public sector practitioner's perspective, OJEU (Official Journal of the European Union) can be helpful and it can be very unhelpful.
"If you're facing a challenge where you need to be more flexible over who you can contract with, OJEU gets in the way, and if I'm being perfectly candid, I don't think the CCS [Crown Commercial Service] framework has really helped. It's channelling down into set boxes that don't really help [the FM provider]."
A government spokesperson responded to Holt's comments, telling FM World that the CCS believes this isn't the case, and that the framework "offers flexibility in procuring facilities management contracts across the public sector".
The spokesperson said: "This ensures access to government contracts to a wide range of suppliers, including SMEs, while supporting delivery of high-quality services and value for money."
The FM models in public sector organisations also need to address ownership of asset management tools, according to Holt. He said that by pushing asset management on to the service provider, the FM team loses the opportunity to benchmark.
"Data needs to sit with the public sector body, the client, or you lose transparency."
Future FM consideration
Holt referred to a quote from Steve Jobs. "It's impossible to join the dots looking forward."
Holt urged FM teams to consider what they should have been doing five years ago to make services as efficient as they can be today. He said that the future of public sector facilities management would be centred on placemaking, and ensuring that estates are using information to effectively create a flexible space for its users.
"I predict that we'll be talking about the workplace and assets, rather than facilities management itself. FM has a certain understanding in the marketplace - not about the physical act of the service you've provided, it's what you are trying to create."
Regional devolution could improve public services
Regional devolution could help public sector FM services become more efficient, said Nick Caton, commercial director at the Crown Commercial Service (CCS).
A number of public sector sites would benefit from integrated and shared service arrangements, said Caton. But sharing such services between different public bodies would, he said, always be a "complex and difficult" process. "It's only when [devolution happens] that you can get this collaboration, these ways of working and these integrated services," he said.
The existing supplier base is already efficient, said Caton; suppliers are benefiting from maximising the resources they commit on contracts close to each other, continually looking at ways to make the most of the mobile workforce working on them.
He cited devolution in the city of Manchester and its surrounding boroughs as an example of how services for a council building could be procured in tandem, for example, with a healthcare trust or school. He compared this with arrangements whereby a hospital trust and council building can be close to each other but "have two very different contracts with different specifications and different suppliers".
Sharing services within the public sector ecosystem meant providers working together. "This is not just about contractual terms or money, but about collaborative behaviours. How do I get [one service provider] to share intellectual property with another? The integration of customers, suppliers and procurers will drive FM forward."
Future FM consideration:
Public facilities could benefit from using space for community groups or other organisations.
"Libraries are already doing what Amazon does [allowing third parties to use their platform to sell goods], in using space for other services."
Public sector FM teams can learn from each other
Public sector FM teams in different working environments can learn from each other to improve services provided, claimed Peter Bright, head of strategy at the University of Salford. Bright has experience working in local authorities, and he noted that the professional services side of a university is not dissimilar from the way local governments operate.
"Looking at residential space, education, libraries, in both sectors there is a range in the age, quality and use of buildings," said Bright.
"Both [local authorities and education institutions] have backlog maintenance programmes, and both require looking after the resources that support people, enabling them to work safely and comfortably."
Bright cited shared front-of-house services at Lincolnshire and other district councils in the area, catering services for schools at a local authority being spread across a district, and urged FMs to be open to changes in operations that may seem bold.
"For example, we are looking at extended working hours at [the University of] Salford, including 24-hour access to libraries. When working at a local authority, we allowed community volunteers to run longer operating hours in the local library.
"But while there is an enthusiasm to share and work together, the enthusiasm needs to be sustained," said Bright.
"It is not just about sharing benefits, but costs and challenges as well."
Future FM consideration:
Both sectors have a certain requirement for flexibility within service provision, said Bright.
"Offering agile working conditions will change the dynamic of FM."