A revealing look at how procurement proves key to enabling West Mercia Police to better serve and protect its community…

The procurement transformation conversation is often examined through the lens of the private sector. Procurement, in this context, looks to enable greater efficiencies, unlock innovation, drive digitisation and generate cost savings for the bottom line. But to reduce procurement to such rigid terms and to focus purely on the private sector is reductive. Where cost savings and sourcing at the best cost and value will remain the core function of procurement, doing so in the public sector where the end-users are the public and the value is represented through the protection of a local community is what defines the procurement for West Mercia Police. 

West Mercia Police (WMP) is the territorial police force for Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin in the United Kingdom. With a shared population of 1.19 million people, West Mercia Police is the fourth largest police area in England and Wales. In September 2020, West Mercia Police embarked on a significant procurement journey, one that would indeed see procurement rise to the fore and align with all of the key stakeholders within the organisation.  

Simply put, procurement’s key role in supporting the police force was about to truly enter the spotlight and to achieve this, it needed someone to drive the journey, someone with a fresh perspective and perhaps most importantly someone who had significant experience in procurement transformation within the private sector. Not only was WMP looking to redefine its procurement function, it was also undergoing a significant commercial transformation to become a much more modern, agile and more responsive police force that was also an efficient, commercially viable, fit for purpose police estate.  

Jon Strelitz was brought in as Head of Contracts & Procurement, coming off the back of significant procurement experience with ENGIE. A key part of his remit was to foster better infrastructure and development for West Mercia’s officers and staff to reach their potential whilst providing value for money for the public and create a network of partners, public and third sector agencies working alongside the police to deliver a safer West Mercia. 

“Like any organisation we have functional support, in terms of the services and what we deliver to our customers, our communities,” he says. “We’re a support function offering professional support to the organisation in terms of commercial and procurement services. This encompasses categories of spend such as fleet, ICT, facilities management, financial services, uniform & equipment, HR, forensics [traditional and digital], Healthcare, custodial and commissioning work. “It is supporting the business in adherence to public procurement regulations, ensuring the governance and transparency in terms of how we award contracts to our suppliers.” 

One of the biggest challenges procurement professionals have faced over the last decade when bringing change to the organisation is a lack of understanding as to what procurement can bring to the table. Be it the public or the private sector, procurement’s biggest challenge has been storytelling and so when we hear talk of ‘having a seat at the table’ this represents a giant leap in the right direction for the function. The journey towards getting there however, is not so simple. Procurement knows procurement, but does anyone else? And how do you go about convincing a legacy laden organisation that this new look procurement is right for the business?  

Rachel Hartland Lane, Director of Business Services, believes that there was a certain ‘mystique’ about procurement prior to this current journey. “Quite often procurement was brought in too late in terms of conversations,” she says. “A last minute thought rather than building it into our business case fully and ensuring that we build in those efficiencies early to maximise the marketplace and get the best value from it,” she says. “We’re on a journey, but we’re not there yet. We’re starting to demystify procurement, I think, in the organisation so that people understand the value that procurement can add to their business.” 

This is a journey built around people understanding the value they can really bring to the organisation. Jon speaks of how a strategy doesn’t have a start or an end point. It evolves as it progresses, and he was keen to help people evolving along with it against the overarching strategy of WMP. For Clare Griffiths, Procurement Officer in Forensics, this evolution is a top to bottom evolution, not simply one of procurement. “It’s about getting everybody involved. It’s not just the procurement staff, or people that work in procurement,” she says. “It’s got to be everybody involved, from the budget holders, even the officers on the ground. They have to be aware of what procurement really means, and how it can impact on their role.” 

This notion of understanding what procurement is and what it can do not only for the business as a collective but for each and every person’s role is an important one for Jon and his team. During his time within the private sector, the fast paced nature meant that there was a constant process of winning or losing contracts, mobilising and demobilising, or implementing new ideas, concepts or goals together with drivers coming for all parts of the business. Without a competent and well-structured procurement team in place this would all fall apart. While public sector procurement does differ in some places, this complex ecosystem is a challenge shared.  

As Wendy Hancock, Procurement Officer, says: “Given our commercial transformation and the work we did there, without procurement things would have gotten quite messy, quite quickly. People would not have known what the correct processes were, causing significant headaches. People know their own roles, but they don’t know everybody else’s and this has often been the case with procurement. With Jon coming in and the strategy we have in place, a lot more people are aware of what we do and what benefits we can bring.” 

Any procurement professional will tell you that a journey of this nature is simply not possible without having the right people and the right skill sets, equipped with the right tools, to make it possible and to continue pushing procurement higher and higher to further support the organisation. With WMP, Jon was blessed with an incredible team of procurement professionals who not only believed in this transformation journey, but truly believed in procurement and what it can do to support policing, allowing local communities to feel much safer and better protected.  

When bringing about change, particularly in a function that looks to better align itself with all areas of the organisation, the significance of collaboration and communication cannot be overstated. We hear of procurement transformations driven by a new CPO who comes in and outlines the road ahead for the business and while Jon does fit the description, by his own admission this is not his vision. It’s not even his boss’. “It is ours. It is the team strategy,” he says. “It was incredibly important to align people to that strategy where their greatest strengths are. They are the subject experts, not me,  so it’s about engaging with everybody.” 

“This strategy sits up high, but that doesn’t mean if you’re a procurement officer it’s any more out of reach than myself. We’re all on a level playing field. It is our strategy to deliver and we are all contributing to the goals and the priorities within that plan.” 

This sentiment is echoed by Richard Muirhead, CFO. As the CFO, arguably he more than anyone else has the most significant relationship with the CPO. “The world gets ever quicker, doesn’t it?” he says. “This is the fastest we’ve ever moved, but it’s the slowest we will ever move.  It just gets faster and too much control can really get in the way. Collaboration is everything. Finance and procurement,  for me, really do need to be close together to truly enable the organisation.” 

Jon is a big believer in his team and the people around him because he understands how each and every decision that he or his team makes impacts those officers out in the field, which in turn impacts the people in the communities around them. Perhaps one of the most rewarding things for Jon and his team, when viewing it through the private vs public sector lens, is that they can see first-hand what their roles bring to the organisation and how they play a key role in making a real difference. “It is incumbent on my team to support the business to get the best deal possible so that we drive a more effective benefit to the communities we serve,” he says.  

“A real difference in terms of the way I see what I do compared to my time in the private sector, is that it’s less about private profitability and pleasing the shareholders. Here, I want us to be the most efficient police force in the country. 

“It’s quite an exciting time. West Mercia Police, yes it’s a police force, but it’s a brand. How can we use the supply chain, the innovation that’s out there and the opportunities around social value, how do we help drive that into our communities where we can support the police in doing what they’re there to do? That for me is a real opportunity. I am immensely proud in looking at how we can really affect change. That’s what I want my team to believe, because if they think it and believe it, they act it.”  

Jon Strelitz, Head  of Contracts & Procurement, West Mercia Police
Jon Strelitz, Head  of Contracts & Procurement, West Mercia Police

And believe it they do, as Farzad Zeb, Procurement Officer, highlights the need for true alignment. “It’s all about having that strategic vision and mission, and a clear direction from the business knowing what they want in the future. Policing has the value around serving the people, serving the communities. It’s making sure that our business strategy is aligned to that frontline policing strategy,” he says.  

“The environment is constantly changing, and because of the external pressures policing needs to adapt to those changes. We need to be able to adapt ourselves to that change and provide frontline officers with the latest technology, for the best price, following the right process and making sure we future proof. With Jon and the team that we have, we are able to get the best out of each other to really drive value and support that overarching strategy and frontline policing.” 

In procurement, cost savings often speak the loudest. When it comes to a procurement transformation, delivering change and implementing new infrastructure, results are needed. In public sector procurement, where the funding comes from the very public that WMP looks to serve, the need for results, transparency and compliance is compounded. And so it should be. But what does this mean then for Jon and his team and this transformation journey? The new commercial model for procurement and for the organisation as a whole has already begun to bring about wholesale changes to the way in which the organisation operates. Success here will have a huge knock on effect for both WMP and its relationships with local suppliers and governing bodies, but also on a national scale. But ultimately, success will be defined by those within the organisation as well as those it touches in the local communities. 

Adam Pritchard, Procurement Officer, is relatively new to WMP and to the public sector. Much like Jon he came from a private sector background. Transparency, compliance and due diligence are some of the biggest differences he has seen so far on his journey. “West Mercia Police is made up of thousands of employees and on top of that is the public. These products and services that we buy and procure relate to and have a tremendous effect on the public,” he says. 

“There is huge responsibility and integrity that goes into this type of procurement. The private sector was somewhat cutthroat in nature. Here, it’s far more methodical. We are spending the public’s money and so we need to make sure we are using it correctly, and fairly and in a way that drives value back to them.” 

Given the last 12 months and the COVID19 pandemic, procurement has truly entered the spotlight for many. As companies have sought to ensure business continuity, procurement has played a key role in balancing costs, realigning supplier relationships and ultimately providing resilience and certainty in a time of great uncertainty. For some, this has meant that innovation, digitalisation and the evolution of procurement has taken a back seat as it reverts back to its core responsibility, but for others it has truly accelerated transformation.  

For WMP change was already afoot with its WMP2020 five-year vision to create a bold new model for policing that brings unparalleled change to the way the force operates. The procurement transformation programme sits within that vision, and while the impact of COVID19 is undeniable, change was always coming for WMP. 

Richard Walden, Procurement Business Partner, recognises this. “I see the procurement business partner role being much more of an interface between the heads of function and chief officers to better understand their challenges, their issues and their demands and then shaping solutions around it,” he says. “You could argue that previously we’ve been very reactive as a function. This is a journey towards being proactive, building real relationships and being more than simply the function that can help achieve a savings goal.”  

That notion of moving forward as a stronger organisation, and therefore a stronger force, is a testament to the work that Jon and his team have done and will continue to do. Where COVID has indeed highlighted the significance of procurement, it has cemented the need for a procurement function that is truly aligned to both the strategy of WMP and all of its business areas. Earlier this year, WMP brought its FM & Estates Services in-house and this required not only a new team to manage a large property portfolio of Police and Fire assets but also the requirement of a CAFM platform that could give full control and management of reactive maintenance, planned maintenance visits, statutory compliances, risk management but also a financial solution enabling high levels of control of building maintenance costs guidelines. It is here, where WMP partnered with Access Group to leverage its Access Maintain platform. 

“The platform is cloud based and has an app so it can be used on the go and gives complete visibility and transparency for West Mercia Staff and importantly contractors and end users,” explains Jon. 

“As a system, we benefitted immensely from its ease of use and its functionality to enable enhanced management of our assets across the portfolio, with a key feature in how the system guides users in routing the appropriate response to reactive work. The system allows the estate team to automate the entire workflow, reduce paperwork, emails and manage reactive and planned maintenance in a timely fashion.” 

WMP has vastly improved its management of data to enable the most efficient planning of reactive work across its estate and its ability to manage quotation for work so that costs are captured, controlled and auditable. 

“Everything is online and we can access what we need in real time, meaning WMP has full control enabling complete transparency and visibility across the Estate.” 

Procurement is made up of a strong team of people, experts in their particular categories who all work as one and are aligned to the same goals of the organisation. As Jon himself acknowledges; it’s highlighted just how important cross-functional collaboration is to achieving any form of success for WMP. 

As WMP emerges from this COVID19 era, this procurement journey will continue. It will shift and change as the world around it, and the face of policing, changes with it. Jon, through all of his years in the private sector, understands that budgets will fluctuate and so he is keen to stress that he and his team have a duty to continue delivering the best resources and best value to WMP in order for WMP to serve its community both today, and long into the future.  

“We must always remember that we are funded by the public purse,” he adds. “We’ve got a finite amount of budget in what we want to do. But make no mistake; we want to do a lot and we will do a lot in the near future,” 

Rachel Hartland Lane adds: “Our vision and values as a police force are to protect people from harm. That’s ultimately what we’re here to do and so the efficiency and effectiveness of our police service is absolutely vital. There’s an immense amount of pride in ensuring that we enable our officers and staff to have everything that they need. Procurement plays a key role in this, and we don’t lose sight of the fact that everything we do is about protecting our public.” 

John Campion 

Police and Crime Commissioner, West Mercia Police 

“Procurement is not broken, it’s just not as good as it can be. Like many organisations, we tend to relive and repeat our mistakes and ask, “how did this happen?” If we procure our uniforms badly for example, in terms of quality or supply, we’re not serving the public because the people doing the job haven’t got the right equipment. We need to know how that happened and have it within us to change. For example, we could spend less on uniforms and use them more smartly; and that’s just one way in which we can be more strategic when it comes to the procurement function here. 

This journey has been about getting the most out of the process, not about fixing a gaping chasm. I see this as about improving our general wellbeing when it comes to procurement. Savings aren’t financial and they aren’t the treasurer’s problem. Procurement isn’t just for procurement, it is part of the system that everybody is responsible for. 

COVID has shown us why public sector procurement, at times, is amongst the best because it does need to be adaptable and this is important as we move beyond COVID and maintain the balance between our efficiency and effectiveness when serving the people. 

I don’t buy into this idea that there’s public sector procurement and private sector procurement. It is all just good procurement. We should be taking the very best at what we are able to tap into. The constant journey of transformation is about keeping it fresh and people are a key part to making that happen. For me and WMP, if procurement is serving itself and not the organisation, it’s missing the point entirely.”

Julian Moss BSc (Hons), MFPH 

Deputy Chief Constable, West Mercia Police 

“We’ve always been good at getting project support without any early steer from procurement, which has come in far too late.  With Jon, we’ve made the right decisions and gone through effective procurement exercises, and been given the right advice in setting contracts and SLAs. We are now capable of holding those to account. Procurement is much more supported. I’m seeing fewer problems coming through as a result of poor procurement processes.  

The reality of what the public sees and values is people. 80% of our costs are on our greatest asset, our people. If we can spend less on uniforms and use them smartly to save time and effort, then our people are able to do a better job and we’ll have more people to serve the community. We’ve got a public duty to make sure that we’re as effective and efficient as we can be in supporting the service that we deliver, which is all delivered through people. 

I think there was an organisational mindset that things took a long time. The use of technology, different ways of connecting and agile ways of working, were probably the most visible. Look at where we’ve come so far with procurement and just look at what we can now do. Our greatest legacy from this will be this sense of recognising what procurement can really do for the organisation and how fast and effectively it can do it, which has been one of the real bugbears of the public sector.”

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