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Playing to win – Chartwells

Saturday August 22nd, 2009

Tony Byrne, Business Director of Chartwells – part of Compass Group UK & Ireland – speaks to GO about how the contract caterer was re-awarded the multimillion-pound contract with Lewisham Council for the provision of school meals.

Q What will your contract with Lewisham involve?

A With the re-awarding of the school catering contract with Lewisham Council, Chartwells will provide catering services to 78 primary and secondary schools and two civic centres. Within these schools there are approximately 20,000 students, making it one of the largest councils with which Chartwells works.

Q What is the contract worth and how long is it for?

A The contract with Lewisham Council is set for three years with the option to extend by a further two years based on performance. It is worth £6.5 million in annual revenue.

Q What are the main differences between working for public sector and private sector clients?

A Chartwells works with 120 independent schools, 32 universities, 101 colleges and more than 1300 primary and secondary schools through local authority and single contracts, so has extensive experience in the different ways in which clients like us to operate. 

The public sector is, understandably, affected by public drivers from which the private sector is largely exempt. Perhaps as a result, the procurement process is more formal and there is less manoeuvrability and less room for negotiation around procurement with public sector organisations. 

Q How were considerations on key public procurement issues such as sustainability, ethics and value for money taken into account in your bid?

A Chartwells, as part of Compass Group UK & Ireland, has a Corporate Responsibility Framework which details our commitment to areas such as these and demonstrates how we conduct our business accordingly.

For the past five years Chartwells has been working closely with Lewisham Council on a sustainability programme called Meet the Grower, where students meet farmers to learn the value of sustainable sourcing. In our bid, we were able to discuss and expand on programmes such as these so that we are in line with Lewisham’s Green Borough status.  It is important that a service provider can support a public sector organisation’s values.

Q What challenges can arise in the tendering process?

A A difficulty which can arise in public sector bids is the understanding of the emphasis on the ‘quality versus price’ equation.  On some occasions, a potential client’s budget will not permit the quality they expect so it is important to quickly ascertain the importance of each part of the equation. 

As the tender process can be relatively short, the time in which to build relationships with potential new clients and understand what they want is also limited.  This can be a challenge when working with new public sector organisations.

Q What advice would you give to others embarking on a public sector contract?

A It is very important to read the specification carefully and understand the terms and conditions of the contract immediately. Ask for clarification of any parts that are not clear and make sure you have all of the necessary information to ensure that the bid document exactly matches the organisation’s requirements and specifications.

Q What feedback have you received from the client?

A Our submission was very thorough and that the tender evaluation panel was impressed with Chartwells’ commitment to working in partnership with the Council to ensure that children’s meals meet, and potentially exceed, the Government’s standards.

Q Is there anything you would like to see changed in the tendering process?

A In the tender process for public sector organisations, there tends to be a substantial amount of information that is required in the pre-qualification process, such as information on equal opportunities and health and safety. It would make the tender process much easier if there was a standardised public sector list in existence that could be used at this stage. It can be a time consuming and frustrating part of the tender process, even for a company which fulfils all of the criteria, to supply all the relevant information at this stage in the format specified.

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