Big Interview: Andrew Mitchell

An image of Andrew Mitchell, Head of Procurement and Value at NCHA.

Andrew Mitchell is Head of Procurement and Value for NCHA, a non-profit organisation providing housing, care and support within Nottingham.

For Procurement Heads’ latest Big Interview, Andrew spoke with Gemma Burman about his career and the challenges he faces within his role.

How did you get into procurement?

It was by chance, more than anything to be honest. I’d been made redundant and a friend of a friend approached me with a proposal.

Using my transferable skills from my civil and merchant background, I helped develop a procurement team for his private company.

I established some real cost savings for the company, by collaborating and using an external supply chain.

This meant that cash flow was sustainable and the level of service that we received was in line with the prices we were paying. And so, I established a new career in procurement.

What are the roles and responsibilities the procurement function holds within your organisation and how do you split the function out?

I’m in the public sector now, and it’s quite different.

At NCHA, the procurement function is centralised. All procurement over £10,000 has to go through the Procurement team, to ensure compliance has been met. It’s a fair, transparent, and open process to ensure value for money.

The team deal with end-to-end procurement projects. We’re involved right from the idea stage to ensure that the full process is driven straight through and meets public regulations.

We support the onboarding of all contracts too.

Once the procurement is completed, we’ll continue to support through the onboarding phase, up to the initial pre-start meeting, to make sure everything’s in place; insurance documents, RAMS, method statements and data sharing agreements.

We implement new contract management procedures so the whole organisation is working to the same contract management levels and principles.

We also have responsibility for ensuring we’re up to date on all procurement regulations and that we’re not putting the organisation at risk.

As a Procurement team, we understand that throughout the life cycle of a project, that’s where value for money can really be achieved.

So we set KPIs for every contract, to monitor and benchmark. This helps encourage continuity from the supplier throughout, and ensures the value for money secured at procurement isn’t lost during contract delivery.

What are the challenges that you and your team currently face?

We are all facing rate rises in an uncertain market.

Inflation rates are starting to decrease, but the huge rise in gas and electric prices have driven costs way beyond what we’d usually expect to see. And the war in Ukraine is affecting the supply and demand of products we use, further increasing prices.

If we judge the success of procurement purely on value for money, how do we evidence that against a previously stable economy?

What are you most passionate about when it comes to procurement?

I believe procurement should be fair, transparent and open.

Every process in public procurement should reflect those ideals. We shouldn’t simply renew existing suppliers because we’ve got a good relationship; we need to be constantly testing the market.

I’m passionate about ensuring NCHA’s environmental and social values are written into contracts. We’ve recently linked with HACT (social value for housing), to make sure we’re using national indicators to calculate our social value delivery.

Good contract management principles are also high on my agenda. There’s so much value for money lost in poor contract management.

If we get the principles right at a basic level, we can ensure that the objective of the contract is being met, and for the price it was initially tendered for.

What do you look for when you’re hiring?

Key skills must include; good time management, principles, strong administration skills, the ability to multitask and communication skills.

Clear communications, to all levels, and information retention is essential for transparency.

Depending on the level of the role, it is beneficial if an applicant has CIPS or experience in the industry.

Tell us about your biggest achievement in your procurement career.

The single procurement I’m most proud of was secured through a collaboration with Nottingham City Council (my employer at the time) and Derby City Council.

It was a joint highways framework with 18 lots and a four-year value of £115m. I led the project to a successful conclusion with all lots awarded.

By establishing great relationships with multiple suppliers, we ensured the network was up to the standards the people of Nottingham deserve.

I’m also proud of restructuring the procurement function at NCHA. I was initially brought in on an advisory capacity, but I’ve developed it into a central procurement function. I’ve established a team and we lead all procurements for the organisation.

An apprentice has joined the team and recently passed their level 3 CIPS. I consider that a real achievement too.

What about the biggest risk you’ve taken?

The role restructure at NCHA has definitely been my biggest professional risk. I was recruited to deliver one service and changed mindsets to develop it into an essential procurement role and function.

There was a risk of resistance by some senior colleagues, but they’ve all been really supportive and can see the benefits. So it was a risk worth taking.

What skills do you consider to be essential to be a procurement leader?

There’s a few essential skills to be a procurement leader:

  • Communication is key: Maintaining lines of communication with the whole organisational structure, going out to clients/internal clients and being clear on what they can do, what they can’t do, what the objective is, and giving clear instruction.
  • Leading by example and influencing others.
  • Attention to relationship management: Establishing and maintaining good relationships with stakeholders and external contractors to ensure two-way communications can follow.
  • Sharing best practice and learning from others: Often partners and contractors are already doing the things that we’re looking to achieve, so let’s tap into what they’re doing.

What do you think are the key focus areas for procurement right now?

A key focus for me right now is the imminent Procurement Bill. As we step away from the European Union we need to understand the long-term impacts on the way we procure.

Another focus is the constant fluctuation of quoted prices, and the struggle in holding people to their stated prices.

Supply and demand, especially in the construction industry, has also been a recent issue, and the impact this has had on prices.

What are your team and organisation doing with regard to sustainable procurement?

We always advertise our procurements, to highlight to potential partners that we look at goods, services and utilities for the life of the contract or product.

We’re not just looking for something cheap and expendable. We want to minimise waste and damage, by looking for what’s best for the economy and build sustainability that way.

We want to work with suppliers who look at design opportunities and consider the social and economic consequences.

We’re looking to establish partnerships to promote a sustainable market and enhance our knowledge and reputation.

Environmental sustainability is high on NCHA’s agenda. Our Head of Sustainability looks at every procurement before it goes out, to ensure relevant issues and concerns are considered.

What supply challenges are you facing currently and what are you doing to overcome them?

In the construction industry, we’re facing big skill shortages.

It’s made the market really unpredictable and contracts often fall through, or prices increase. It’s a fine balancing act; to hold a reasonable price or allow contractors to increase prices and continue the work.

We’re looking to break down procurements where we can.

A recent example is our recent procurement for access control and fire equipment safety. We broke it down to try and allow contractor(s), to bid on the bits they specialise in, to give us the best service, expertise and value for money.

We’re also monitoring the inflation rate, and the impact it’ll have on procurement in the short and long-term.

What is the procurement function’s role in alleviating its impact?

Uncertain inflation has caused the industry many concerns, especially in trying to achieve value for money year on year. Such a changeable market makes it very hard to compare value from a previous contract.  

In the social housing sector, our rent increase for 2023 was capped by the government at 7%. This is well below inflation and leaves us with a 4% shortfall. To manage this, we’re exploring strong management levels and contract management.

We strongly believe that managing a contract correctly will help us save money in the long term, as will working closely and transparently with our contractors.

What do you like doing in your spare time? Do you have any favourite books, films, destinations, sports?

I’ve got three children, and a lot of my time is spent chasing them around and supporting their activities.

The eldest is mad about football. He’s 20 now but I still go to most of his matches. He’s off to America soon for a six-week trial for a master’s scholarship, so that’s exciting.

The middle one is passionate about tennis. Most mornings we’re on the court with his trainer before school. And my youngest is into art, so we go to a lot of classes.

So yes, my time is my children’s time!

If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?

It would be to ‘stop, breathe and take your time’.

Life is not a race, and you’ll get to where you’re going to get to. You just need to stop and breathe and enjoy the journey.

Finally, tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I have been lucky enough to meet the Queen and be part of the Queen’s Guard when I was in the Navy, so that was quite special.

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