Clean sweep, new broom

April 19, 1996

Outsourcing has become a managers' buzz word. Michael Jackson reports.

The University of Westminster takes facilities management seriously. With 1.3 million square foot of buildings spread over 23 sites, catering for more than 20,000 students and 2,500 staff, it cannot afford not to.

Facilities management is the effective coordination of an organisation's accommodation, services and supplies to meet its business needs and to help satisfy its business objectives. In the case of the university, its 95-strong facilities team covers porterage, reception, room booking/space management, post, cleaning, security, procurement, telecommunications, reprographics, insurance, waste disposal and car parking.

This team has recently merged with the estates management department, which is responsible for the maintenance of buildings and services, such as heating and air-conditioning, and traditional landlord and tenant matters.

In April 1993, the facilities team came under the spotlight when Chesterton Facilities & Property Management was appointed by the university to carry out an audit of its services and operation. This identified three important factors: a lack of clear management structure; house staff terms of reference that were too wide to be capably performed by one person; and staff who were employed on vastly differing terms, conditions and pay structures.

The audit team's recommendations included devolving day-to-day responsibility for service provision to three new experienced facilities managers, one for each of the campuses. It also recommended dividing house staff functions into porterage, receptionist and security, and standardising conditions of service to a 40-hour, Monday to Friday working week.

Rostered working was introduced to maintain house staff cover during normal university opening hours of 8am to 10pm, plus weekend opening in some buildings. It was also proposed that security should be contracted out or "outsourced" and full-time receptionists recruited for the larger buildings to ease the workload of the existing staff and improve service levels generally.

An advertisement for the security contract was placed in the European Journal in January 1995, attracting 21 preliminary tenders. The new security contract, valued at between Pounds 500,000 and Pounds 1 million per annum, included manned cover on a 24-hour, seven days a week basis for the major buildings, as well as providing relief to receptionists.

Outsourcing security freed the house staff to concentrate on their core activities, while the university improved overall security by maintaining a uniformed deterrent, establishing regular patrols around sites and receiving early warning of incidents at nights and weekends.

Cleaning services were next on the timetable. Previously, these had been carried out under a number of individual contracts for each site; standards were generally low and supervision minimal. These services were retendered, consolidating cleaning under one or two larger contracts, to improve overall standards, benefit from economies of scale, update and improve specifications and introduce structured supervision and default procedures.

An advertisement was placed in the European Journal that elicited 16 responses. These were whittled down to five or six full tenders and, although the contract has yet to be awarded, the prices quoted reflect a significant decrease on the previous cleaning budget.

A few stumbling blocks have been encountered during the tendering process. Not least of these was the tricky problem of staff morale. Chesterton FPM and the university worked hard at resolving this key issue: unions and staff were consulted at all stages, with detailed explanations given of the context and reasons for change.

Throughout the review period, I was seconded from Chesterton to the university as a facilities manager. With this role now nearing completion, I believe that the outsourcing of the service contracts has met all its objectives, namely achieving value for money, obtaining tangible improvements in service levels, and improving specification standards and contract conditions.

There is, however, one last task: to write the operation and procedures handbook for its facilities department.

Michael Jackson works for Chesterton International Property Consultants.

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