Every year, National Highways (NH) spends £600m maintaining and improving England’s motorways and major A-roads. Historically, the tender process and requirements created some difficulties for a wide pool of suppliers to bid for work. This resulted in constraints in the innovation and positive outcomes from the public money invested that comes with wider competition in the market.
Scheme Delivery Framework was introduced by National Highways to provide more choice, competition, and consistency across the regions. They worked with key government partners and suppliers to revolutionise their procurement process, providing a level playing field for suppliers of all sizes.
Below we reflect on the success of the Scheme of Delivery Framework and the lessons learnt along the way that shaped the procurement journey.
The Scheme Delivery Framework supports the delivery of National Highways' sustainability goals across its renewals programme. It limits repeat maintenance, reducing the exposure of the workforce to traffic and reduces the overall cost of maintaining the network.
It was a bold and ambitious reset of a long-standing procurement practice. National Highways needed to provide more choice, competition, and consistency across the regions and provide a level playing field for suppliers of all sizes to deliver better value while delivering on the government’s levelling up programme and SME targets.
National Highways knew that the requirements for placing a bid were simpler and more accessible for smaller SMEs. To support this, they converted all their tender documentation from lengthy word documents into succinct, narrated PowerPoints that explained the process, provided hints and tips, and explained the company’s culture around areas such as Carbon and Social Value.
To create a level playing field across the country, National Highways recognised that the framework would need to be tiered. To do this they created four bands (including Civil Works, Specialist Services, Specialist Works, and Design) and asked suppliers to preference the regions that they would like to work in, allowing smaller suppliers to win in local areas where they can really make a difference.
Throughout the procurement process, NH hosted ‘tender clinics’ to brief bidders on the process. These clinics were proven to drive participation, showcase priorities – such as health and safety, and social value – and fostered an open and transparent atmosphere throughout the supply chain.
Challenges along the road
National Highways set about creating the Scheme Delivery Framework at a time when the ongoing uncertainty created by Covid-19 restrictions presented additional, unforeseen challenges. Suppliers were already dealing with several critical operational changes, so clear communication was key throughout to make sure everyone understood the requirement, why the Scheme Delivery Framework was in place, and what it aimed to achieve.
They turned each element of the tender into narrated webinars which not only made it easier for suppliers to understand but were used to advertise the opportunities more widely on LinkedIn. Tender opportunities within the public-sector environment are often only advertised on Contracts Finder and FaTS, however, these extra mediums of communication have proved to expand their reach and are driving supplier take-up.
At the outset, National Highway’s key performance indicators for ‘success’ included more than just savings delivery. It was equally as important to achieve an increase in market engagement, supplier diversity, knowledge-sharing and procurement with a purpose.
After an 18-month process, National Highways changed the way they tendered, resulting in more suppliers to build roads better. The result was a £3.6bn tiered framework designed specifically to be more cost-effective, streamlined, and accessible to an increasingly diverse supplier pool. The new procurement process delivered better value for the suppliers, National Highways, and the taxpayer, while delivering on the government’s levelling up programme and SME targets.
This resulted in significant savings, a diversified supply chain, and better social value outcomes - all within the constraints of complex public-sector procurement.
The social value outcomes were also an impressive result with at least 1,428 apprenticeships secured and 41 local and SME-based initiatives with more than £21,000 donated in community funds and enhanced payment terms for smaller businesses.
What the future holds
National Highway’s procurement team has shared information around this innovative approach, which has received recognition both domestically, being shortlisted for CIPS Public Procurement Project of the Year and from international bodies such as Autobahn, Rijkswaterstaat and Agentschap Wegen en Verkeer. They have enhanced the SME agenda, forming a key part of the Government’s levelling up agenda, as well as driving social value which will be taken forward to future projects.
This project underlined the importance of stakeholder involvement to drive change in processes. National Highways ensured that key public-sector partners were at the table throughout the process to ensure alignment and they have now used the learnings from the Scheme Delivery Framework to show other departments how to change their practices.
The Scheme Delivery Framework has levelled the playing field for hundreds of suppliers in the UK. In doing so, it has opened a whole range of social value benefits and the project has only just started.
“The framework has been a huge success for us and our suppliers," said Jo Wilkes, Head of Procurement, SDF, National Highways. "We have delivered savings but also increased market engagement, supplier diversity and knowledge sharing. This project has provided us with the opportunity to develop a direct relationship with more suppliers and the learnings will be used on future projects."
Andrew Stephenson, Procurement Director at National Highways, said: “It has been very rewarding being part of a project that has delivered these impressive results: enhancing the SME agenda, forming a key part of the government’s levelling up agenda, as well as driving social value. This Framework is driving even further innovation in Britain’s road network, creating more opportunities for suppliers of all sizes and delivering even better value for the taxpayer and road user."