Lewisham Passenger Transport - Travel Assistance Advisor Q&A

In this interview we speak with Stephen Good, Travel Assistance Advisor at Lewisham Borough Council about Passenger Transport.

  1. Thank you for your time today Stephen, can you tell me a bit about what you’re doing at Lewisham in your role?

"I’m working with Lewisham in an independent role as a Travel Assistance Advisor. I’ve been contracted in to review the service, how Lewisham operate, how they source and manage demand, forecast budgets and all sorts of elements of the operation including testing the policy to ensure its robust and clear."

  1. Could you tell us a bit about what the objectives are for the Transport category and Passenger Transport?

"Coming in last year, we reviewed the traditional approach to commissioning which was a framework. We also reviewed the way Lewisham engaged with the market and at that point in time the framework was coming to an end (had just been extended for a further year) and that was as far as it could go. This meant we had to review whether a traditional framework would meet the current and future needs. We were looking at it and believed it wouldn’t meet the current and future needs in terms of the fact that there were problems with a traditional framework in transport."

"Lewisham began with 16 providers on the framework but this automatically reduced to 9 because some people thought they had bid to deliver everything, but it wasn’t to deliver everything it was to deliver individual routes. This meant some people missed the deadline and couldn’t join the framework."

"Again, some of the manual tasks that they were doing would take too long, linked in with the finance systems, so therefore there were lots of things which created bottle-necks and delays which then impact on service delivery, customer service, safeguarding, contract monitoring and management. So, it increased risks of safeguarding issues."

*So the objective was to change that? *

"Yeah the objectives were to identify a way to improve it basically, whether that meant changing the existing framework and the specifications and things like that, was an option and doing more engagement in the market was an option too. We then looked at whether a DPS was a solution as well and then I was looking at the functionality of a DPS, how they operate, which identified some of that flexibility that we were looking for. In terms of operating and on a day to day basis it helps with the finance and processing of invoices from that side of things."

  1. What made Lewisham think about changing the way they commission?

"So, because of some of the issues and the barriers that existed at that time, within a DPS we saw that it could overcome some of those issues and barriers, not necessarily just one because it links everything together quite nicely. So, rather than changing the finance system on its own or use an encrypted email system to send out quotes or develop databases or things like that around different elements of the sourcing process, actually a DPS, or the right DPS, would cater for all of those. Therefore, the interfaces and the complexities between all of those stages should reduce or be removed basically."

"So, that’s what we were looking at and from a process point of view and a system point of view really which was a key driver. We also knew that there weren’t enough providers on our existing framework or active providers on our framework which meant competition wasn’t as great as it should be. We knew that moving forward it was a good opportunity and a point of change that needed to happen to engage with the market again to develop it and take that side of it forward as well."

  1. How did you get others on board to change?

"From the offset with adam, in terms of the discovery report and identifying what the adam system can do and the approach can bring to Lewisham was key. By that point we had already involved different stakeholders, there was early engagement and I think the benefit for us was that people had realised that things were difficult or broken and therefore change had to happen."

"So, there was already acceptance at that point that things had to happen and change and therefore people were open to a new way of working which is obviously what this is. So, from that point of view it made it quite easy as people agreed that the approach was broken and we needed to resolve it."

"As I say, the initial engagement with adam in terms of doing the discovery report to identify bits and pieces, for me, it backed up some of the findings that I had and I had made about the process and the system. For example, the amount of time it took to process invoices was a similar calculation in the discovery report as on my data and my analysis. It wasn’t new figures or something that we had to use to convince people that this is the case because they had already seen and been aware of it."

"So the fact that the proposal from you guys mirrored what our understanding was of the market or what could be achieved helped in terms of a selling point and then obviously from going into the project, the people that were then involved again, accepted that the finance element doesn’t work that well and the limited procurement resource available meant that its historically been a struggle for services, so therefore adam would enable it to be easier moving forward to procure and engage which was again a key selling point."

  1. Did Lewisham speak to other councils about what the best solution might be for transport?

"I think there was some general discussions from a network of councils, especially in London there’s quite a good network so people do talk and people do discuss what they’re doing. I think people quickly understood that there seemed to be a change happening, especially for transport services of moving from a traditional framework to a DPS. The people who have made that change have seen a benefit where again I suppose, typically some of the characteristics of our operation were present in other councils before they’d made the change and therefore gained good results and benefits."

"So, we could benchmark ourselves against other people, although spend and numbers and things like that differed, in terms of operational processes as such were along the same lines in terms of procurement and legal support or expertise that its similar in places. Again, it seemed to be that the councils that were similar to us had gone through this change and as I say had some good results in terms of operational improvements as well as cost savings, especially as there are pressures on budgets."

  1. What did Lewisham’s commissioning process look like before?

"Beforehand in terms of commissioning, it was a traditional framework in place but again a lot of it was done manually and each stage of the commissioning process was stand-alone or with different systems. There was a different system for sending information out to the market and obviously, that comes back and goes into another system to record what’s been received. Then to produce any sort of award or correspondence and some finance information, it’s held in another system but then is processed in another system again and then before payment is made. Monitoring wasn’t supported by any of the systems either, so it was a bit here and a bit there."

"It was all a bit disjointed really, although the same things happen in terms of monitoring and everything else it was just a bit disjointed. Therefore, with adam, having an oversight of everything or being aware and able to tap in to know what is going on at a specific time, whether it is spend or whether it was performance is key for Lewisham. As before, demand was very time consuming to gather and understand from a strategic and commissioning point of view. Although as I say the officers within the team had a good handle over what was going on, outside of that team it was little bit less transparent and visible before using adam."

  1. How did Lewisham’s Supplier Engagement work before starting to work with adam?

"Typically, that would have been their mode of communication (via email), there would be very little face to face engagement. The face to face engagement would come when an inspection or monitoring exercise would be undertaken and the visits on site. However, in terms of sharing what we’re looking to go out for in terms of number of routes, types of work, what the award-winning prices were so people can get an idea of what the market value is and that transparency of where the services are going was very limited or non-existent before using adam. As a result, the market had stagnated and hadn’t moved on from when the original framework was awarded."

*so there were 9 providers left on the framework out of the 16 meaning you couldn’t add to it*

"Yeah, and I think although we’re only a few weeks in to the new approach, we can see on a number of requirements we’ve sent out, that actually that information and transparency has helped because we’ve seen a number of providers putting in revised bids as part of the bidding process. These providers who have put in revised bids have then won work and that opportunity wouldn’t have existed on the framework meaning they would have missed out. Using adam, providers also obviously now know what the market value is and what they need to be aiming for and whether they are going to be competitive or not in certain markets."

*and that new process has helped*

"Yeah, we’ve only sent out 4 requirements so far but I can already see on 2 of them that providers have re-bid and strangely enough they’ve worked out their percentage and they’ve come in lower than whoever was lowest at that point. So, those providers have been able to do it and win the work which has helped us and I think more people have seen the requirements too."

"We’re also getting just short of 9 bids back per requirement as well. So, the stats and figures are weighing up, we just need to do benchmarking information on costings, which I think are lower than what they were, but I don’t have the full set of benchmarking data to really do it properly just yet."

  1. Was it hard to engage with providers to move to the new process?

"I think providers in this market can understandably be scared and worried when changes come along. I think in terms of the process we went through as part of this, seeing the system and being able to set it up in a way that was as stripped back as much as we could to make it as simple as possible in terms of bidding, what they need to provide either when bidding or enrolling and obviously with the self-receipting of invoices and things like that; I think they’ve seen that there is benefit and again I think in terms change its probably helped us."

"There were historic problems with invoicing and payments in terms of them not being on time, so actually its helped with them thinking ‘yes let’s go with this’, if it helps with payment and that side of it, which is obviously important for all companies that they go with it. Obviously, the engagement and the sessions we had run with providers whether it was face to face or webinars and emails and things like that I think we could demonstrate the simplicity of the adam system and the process they would have to follow and adhere to and therefore, we’ve not had much fight back to be honest. There’s always one or two that need more help than others but generally it’s been pretty smooth."

  1. What has implementing a Category Development System been like for providers?

"From that point of view, there is greater transparency for them and I think the automation and the alerts helps some of them, not necessarily all of them because some already had existing systems in place to help them with their operation, but I think for some because of the market and industry, they were potentially using multiple different systems or tools to try and keep on top of some of the compliance and the day to day stuff."

"So, I think adam helps in terms of giving them alerts, giving them reminders about insurance documents and MOTs and when they have to submit staffing records and things like that and again because of the way the process is quick, easy and accessible for them to log-on, see what requirements are available, see what receipting they need to do, see what we’ve approved and not approved, what invoices are covered and things like that, so I think for their business with us I think it helped. So, as I say if they want to login to have a quick look to see where they are and see what’s happening, they can quickly access it from wherever they are and can quickly action it from wherever they are and get all the information they need using the adam system."

  1. How was the implementation of SProc.net and working with adam?

"For me it’s been fine and good, adam have been on top of things and very comprehensive because obviously, you know what tasks need to be done, when they need to be done by so the project plan and everything else is very comprehensive. Obviously, the people we have been dealing with at adam are great as well."

"adam also have a very good understanding of the type of service it is from a transport perspective and therefore have been able to use experiences and examples of configurations and set-ups of other places so we can try and ensure we don’t just replicate what we’ve done before onto the system. This means Lewisham have been able to test to see whether we need to change our approach or our thinking, so we can say ‘do we really need this’ or ‘could we change and operate it that way’, so it’s been helpful to test some of that and we have changed as a result. Some of the stuff we have thought about as part of the specification or how we ask for quotes and bids and things like that. So, as I say it’s been invaluable with adam, keeping to deadlines and timelines on everything and we managed to get everything done within 16-18 weeks."

  1. How did you find the timescales of the project?

"They were tight and intense but I was saying to someone else earlier that I think in order to do something like this, because of the change and I suppose the scale of the change, I know it’s not necessarily a lot, but the impact and mindsets of people it is seen as quite a big change. Meaning the momentum is key and to have that momentum all the way through, I think helps get through each of the different stages and people in the end just get on with it and accept it rather than having slippage or time where they can challenge and push and argue."

"So, the timescales have been challenging at times because it is quick and you do need to keep on top of it from a council perspective and from adam. The difficulties as always is that you’ve got to make sure you’ve got your teams and your different departments and services that are effected by the change all working on this together and aware of the deadlines which generally they were here. Although there were a few tight deadlines at times and we got right to the last minute before we needed to get certain things in by or done by but yeah, everyone was working together to achieve the same thing so we go through it."

  1. What has changed or improved day to day since go-live?

"For us we’re only a few weeks in but we have already seen more bids, we can see that providers have been onto the system and adjusted their bids. We’ve got a number of invoices or service receipts that have come through automated because they match which we haven’t then had to do any work on; where-as before we were having to manually check them against other systems and then upload them onto other things, so that’s freed up Officer time already."

"Again, even within the team because obviously, it’s still quite early stages and it’s not really spread wider than that yet but within the team they’ve got more oversight of what’s happening, when it’s happening, what’s gone out, what’s come back, so they’re more informed and what the market is doing and how its reacting to our demand needs."

  1. How do you see Transport developing and Passenger Transport developing at Lewisham in the coming years?

"I think by utilising the adam system what will happen is there will be a greater understanding between the providers and the council and they’ll be a better relationship between them. I think they’ll be more engagement between all parties. Therefore, from the providers and the councils point of view, things can operate in a more strategic way and I think in doing so it’ll allow for investment, it’ll allow for improved service, and hopefully at the same time ensure that we have a reduction in cost or at least, cost effective solutions for service delivery."

  1. What advice or recommendations would you make to other boroughs/councils?

"I think this has been said by other people too, that the change might seem big and it might be a new way of working that people don’t necessarily understand outside of existing governance procedures and things like that; but actually the benefits far outweigh that. Its allowing the service to be more agile and flexible. I think the key to it is the engagement with providers and internally, keeping everyone engaged at every step of the project. Again, be open and transparent with what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and keep the system and set-up simple to get people on-board and then you can look to progress and develop it further as you progress into the future."

Thank you very much again for your time today Stephen.

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