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Rethinking Asset Management in Schools

25 July 2007

Although more collaborative customer-supplier relationships are expanding into most sectors of the economy, Martyn Jones from the University of the West of England in Bristol examines whether developing such challenging relationships in the context of FM services for individual schools and colleges is a step too far.

More collaborative relationships (with their confusing myriad of titles and definitions including partnering, and alliances) began to emerge in property and construction in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Spurred on by a succession of government reports and its early successes in parts of the private sector the idea of closer, more synergistic and `win-win’ relationships between customers and suppliers has come to dominate procurement in property and construction.

Early pioneers of this more collaborative rather than opportunistic approach to doing business include British Petroleum in their exploitation of oil reserves in the North Sea, major supermarket chains in developing and upgrading their stores, and the British Airports Authority in the expansion of their airports. Subsequent adopters include housing associations, government departments such as Defence Estates, NHS Trusts and some Local Authorities.

The penetration of more collaborative working into the world of FM was demonstrated by the launch of the PFM Partnership Awards in 1993, when the then editor of PFM, Richard Byatt said “more and more organizations are finding that the way to achieve excellence in facilities management is to form alliance with consultants, contractors and suppliers.” In 2005, Jane Fenwick writing in PFM set out how “FM expertise and [the housing sector’s] partnering ethos has contributed to improving the living conditions of the most vulnerable through to the most affluent.” She went on to explain the role that more collaborative working is playing in meeting the challenges facing both the social housing sector, with its backlog of repairs and improvements, and the private sector, with its complex mix of managing agents and private landlords.

Recent increases in government spending on education coupled with the devolvement of much of that funding to individual schools is providing head teachers, bursars, site managers, Local Education Authorities and FM service providers with the opportunity to extend the frontier of collaborative working. However, rethinking the way school premises are managed through more collaborative customer-supplier relationships does raise two key questions. Are those involved on the customer side of the relationship, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Local Education Authorities, head teachers, and bursars up to the task? And, will it prove to be an attractive market for FM service providers and their suppliers?

The first stage of a research project involving researchers from the University of England at Bristol and practitioners from Ian Williams, ICI Paints, Gloucestershire County Council and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, and undertaken in the South and West of England, has been investigating the appropriateness of more collaborative customer-supplier relationships between schools and their FM service providers. The key questions addressed are the readiness and preparedness of school staff to adopt, implement and sustain the approach and the attractiveness of such a complex and highly fragmented market to FM service providers.

To date, the study has engaged in various ways (including questionnaires, workshops, and interviews) with over 7 per cent of schools and colleges in the South and West. The key findings of the investigation indicate that such an approach is not necessarily a step too far. Schools are receptive to the idea of longer-term and more collaborative relationships with their FM service providers and although doing business directly with schools and colleges results in a fragmented and complex market, it also presents a significant market opportunity for the more innovative and customer-focused FM service providers.

To obtain a full copy of the report, contact Zane Poyner at Ian Williams on zane.poyner@ianwilliams.co.uk


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