Securing contract best value

At last September's IoG Saltex exhibition a Horticulture Week panel debate on coping with today's tough maintenance budgets highlighted worrying examples of procurement practice, from frequent inclusion of long-obsolete machinery in tender documentation to out-of-date, heavily prescriptive contract specification squeezing out opportunities for contractors to bring their expertise to bear - and save money for cash-starved local authority clients in the process.

Panellist and arboriculture consultant Jonathan Hazel described one document that specified services that would have seen providers carrying out 160 hours of work per week each. "The classic mistake is not applying enough thought at the outset. Think about the service you actually need," he advised.

Contract specification needed to be brought into the 21st century, agreed fellow panellist and Landscape Group head of assets and fleet management Angus Lindsay, while industry stalwart Richard Campey Turfcare Systems made an impassioned plea for hard-pressed council staff to tap into the knowledge of their suppliers - a point echoed by consultant Sid Sullivan, who reminded managers that clients "purchase the contractor as well as their expertise".

This week, as a first step towards assisting those on both sides of the tendering process to avoid some of the pitfalls, Sullivan, a regular HW contributor on green space management issues, begins a series dedicated to contract management - starting with three articles on best procurement practice.

It is no longer sufficient, says Sullivan, to write an old-style contract in which all work is specified to the last action and reaction. Best value from budgets comes through collaboration and a partnership approach with providers.

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