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Public Sector Frameworks in Construction & Property Recruitment – with Brexit is it time for a new model?

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A few years ago I started work with a large recruitment agency. I was put into a team, given a brief introduction to the market and the jobs I would be working on and how their recruitment process worked. After a couple of weeks, I moved from just phoning candidates to doing business development with clients. I was given a list of 400 organisations and instructed to make introductions, find out their recruitment processes and, most importantly, to ask if they had any immediate needs for staff.

My main client base was primarily Councils and Housing Associations. Now being public service-orientated people, you might think that Council and Housing Associations would be very friendly and open to meeting with the nice recruitment consultant who has taken time out of his day to call them. If only life was that simple! The reality is that the clients who are trying to get on with their jobs have been getting pestered and bombarded by recruiters for years. Moreover, nine times out of 10 this pestering takes the form of calls offering totally irrelevant candidates and information. My first six months in recruitment was a huge struggle as I discovered that pretty much every Council and Housing Association has a framework or PSL (Preferred Supplier List) in place and unfortunately the organisation I worked for was not on a single one of these frameworks or PSLs.

Some 20 times a day I would have the same conversation: “we can’t use you as you are not on our PSL,” or “we have to use the framework.” Now I am a very determined person and I was desperate to succeed, so I didn’t give up as many of my  - failed – predecessors did when they got these responses.  I did my research about the agencies that were on PSLs and frameworks, what they specialise in, what jobs they had advertised and if they were actually providing a good service to their clients.  I discovered that in reality they frequently did not specialise in the sector.  They were advertising jobs that I could fill easily from my candidate network.  This suggested they were reliant on candidates applying for jobs to fill them and, consequently, it turned out the majority of Councils and Housing Associations were not happy with the service they were receiving.

I had a flash of inspiration and realised the question I should be asking is “what impact does this framework or PSL have on your business?” rather than just simply asking if they had an immediate requirements. I realised that their jobs were not getting filled quickly, the candidates being put forward for jobs were not relevant and when you are reliant on advertising you end up having to pay the candidates over the odds (as you just don’t attract candidates via adverts without tempting them with big rates). With this change in message, I found clients were starting to warm to me as I didn’t just ask questions but instead was seen to offer a solution to their problems.

The next year was a very exciting time for me: I met with well over 100 clients and more and more wanted to explore the option of working outwith their existing PSL agreement. Not only could I provide qualified staff quickly, but I could also give them advice about how to work within their rules and still use an agency not on the framework. In fact, almost every such framework agreement has a rider that makes it clear that the client does not guarantee business to the suppliers on the roster, nor do they (the client) have to use the agreement if they can provide a good reason.  They are, obviously, pressurised by their procurement teams to use the suppliers on the PSL, but procurement do recognise that the entire reason for these contracts is that they should work effectively and where they don’t it is unrealistic to expect the client not to seek an alternative.  Moreover, procurement teams are generally (again understandably) risk-averse and, I know, have to ensure that they are seen to deliver savings.  They are also constrained by EU requirements as to what they can and cannot do and live in fear of things going badly wrong with a contract.  For procurement, an ideal contract is one that doesn’t cause problems and engender complaints from the customers about the service.  The supposition is then that everything is going well…

The reason I joined Peace was mainly because the values and vision of the company match my own and what I want to achieve.  To date in my recruitment career, I have filled jobs with 14 Councils and over 30 Housing Associations. Considering I have never worked as part of any framework or PSL it is a track record of which I am very proud. Personally, I feel the current public sector frameworks in place are not fit for purpose.  While I understand why the public sector feels the need to have control and process in place, in both the short and long term they need to have the people to deliver the services that we, the public, demand and the consequences of not recruiting these specialist construction staff can adversely impact on morale and the effectiveness of their teams.  With IR35 having an increasing impact (some studies show that public sector projects are being delayed or even cancelled), is this the time to develop a better model that is focused more on quality and customer service than on price? With Brexit (presumably) freeing us from the EU procurement requirements in a few years time, would it not make sense to use the intervening period to consider all options and ensure that Councils and Housing Associations (and others) have the construction professionals they need for the next decade?

Craig Wishart, Senior Consultant, Peace Recruitment

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