Earlier this year, we were delighted to have been awaded two contracts by Hampshire County Council. These were:
- Supply, installation and maintenance of bus stop infrastructure
- Supply, installation and maintenance of bus shelters
Rather than simply announce the news and attribute it to the sound judgement of the client, we thought it would be more interesting and informative to summarise five of the main reasons we feel Hampshire CC selected Externiture, and five reasons why your local authority might want to do the same.
1. Competitive price
There’s no getting away from it: all tenders, especially in the public sector, will be assessed by price. A responsible local authority understands the economic and social benefits of improved public transport infrastructure, yet also knows that these improvements need to be made as cost-effectively as possible. These contracts comprised a significant investment on behalf of the council for a period of four years, so the value that the supplier offers has to be carefully analysed by the local authority, and clearly laid out by the potential supplier. We have always believed that it is our responsibility to set out clearly how we cost our proposals, and to show examples of how we have consistently delivered the service we promised within budget for the duration of a contract. Competing for contracts is not a ‘race to the bottom’, it’s about taking the time clearly and realistically to explain why our service represents value and showing how we have proven over many years that the outcomes we promise are the ones we deliver, within budget and on time.
We don't expect to be the cheapest, as quality does cost. We do, however, strive to keep costs down by operating efficiently.
2. Quality of product
There are 8500 bus stops for which HCC is responsible. Of those, 1500 have shelters. In order to be able to maintain and improve the current infrastructure effectively, you need to have extensive knowledge not only of how the current set-up operates, but also of how new infrastructure can be created to make future maintenance and improvement as easy as possible. In short, this is highly specialised knowledge.
At Externiture, we have broad experience not only in maintaining and managing bus stops and shelters, but also in manufacturing them. There are more than 430,000 bus stops in the UK, meaning that far-reaching knowledge of the variations between them takes a long time to acquire. The fact that we have installed thousands of stops and shelters ourselves means we understand how they work. We know from experience the best way to create infrastructure, which means we also know how best to maintain and improve it. When our operatives are sent to a shelter, they have an ingrained understanding of how it fits together and are aware of its strengths and weaknesses. This understanding means they know what’s required to improve it. This also means that, when we are creating infrastructure, we do so from a position of precise understanding as to the best way to do so.
Whether it’s creating a safe waiting area where there used to be an overgrown verge, or erecting a shelter that will last a generation, we have seen it all before.
World-class public transport infrastructure can be manufactured; that level of experience cannot.
3. Quality of service
Although it sounds obvious, it’s worth remembering that the reason a local authority puts a contract out to tender is that they do not have the capacity to deliver the service effectively themselves. Bus stop infrastructure is complex and the successful management of it results in real and lasting social and economic benefits to the local community. It is therefore hugely important that the quality of service reflects what is a significant investment in the future prosperity of the area and the people who live in it.
Our understanding of the complexity and importance of the work we do means that we will never over-promise. Hampshire CC and other clients we work with recognise that the service levels we say we will offer are achievable, good value for money and realistic. This is based not only on the response to the tender that we give, but also on the fact that we are able to demonstrate a clear, lasting and demonstrable track record of achievement in the sector.
By continuing to invest in ourselves and improve our systems and processes, we have arrived at a place in which we have our own tried-and-tested software that allows us to map, record and visit every individual bus stop in a wide area. Knowing this (and the work that’s gone into it) gives us real confidence in our ability to reduce admin time, report clearly and eliminate errors.
4. The ability to manage a large amount of data securely and accurately
The management of thousands of individual bus stops necessarily involves processing large amounts of data. Systems that manage AtcoCodes (unique numbers for individual stops) are essential, but it is not enough simply to have the capability to locate a stop among tens of thousands. In order to be able to maintain such a large number of sites, you need to have the ability to record the state of each one accurately. This means that systems have to be able to gather data that has been recorded and present it in such a way so that actions can be taken. Data such as the name of every stop, photographs of their current state, the passenger information they contain, and their overall condition needs to be kept.
Creating the data is a major task in and of itself. Consider, for instance, the real-life example of undertaking a project to add QR codes to bus stops. First, you need to know which stops already have them and those that don’t. Next, which stops are suitable (i.e. those that have a post to fit the sign). Being able to capture and maintain asset information is vital. Then, when prioritising the stops, you can use service data to choose to target routes or the busiest stops. All this information needs to be at your fingertips before a plan of action can be drawn up. This is just one of many examples of the complexity that an improvement programme encounters.
We are experts in creating/gathering data, we have secure and reliable systems in place to manage it, and we know how to create action plans based on what the data indicates. Our capabilities in this regard are a large part of why we continue to be trusted with contracts such as Hampshire’s.
5. The convenience of a single supplier and the professionalism of the people
Wouldn't it be great to be given one big project every year? Easy to focus on, a single agenda, and simply not going to happen!
Like many authorities, projects come and go. But maintenance carries on. Almost every day, but not always. A supplier has to be incredibly flexible to manage temporary stops, as well as large accessible infrastructure upgrades, production of stop-specific graphics, and surveys of hundreds of bus stops.
Local transport authorities are full of people with a wide range of important responsibilities. As public sector workers, they have limited resources and need to delegate major projects to a range of suppliers. It is vital that LTAs are able to trust the supplier to deliver the work in the right way and without interference, but it is also critical that feedback and reporting is arranged so that the authority knows how the project is progressing. These processes are made far easier by having fewer suppliers to deal with.
It’s also important to note that projects come and go and agendas continue to change. Maintenance, however, carries on and is required almost every day. As well as delivering projects according to plans, we are proud to have the necessary flexibility to be able to manage temporary stops and closures, large accessible infrastructure upgrades, production of stop-specific graphics, and surveying hundreds of bus stops.
For an equivalent contract to these two, it would not be unusual to have separate suppliers for each of the primary deliverables. That is, a single supplier to build the shelters, another to install them, and a third to carry out maintenance and improvement. From the perspective of the LTA, they could either choose to communicate with a single supplier that outsourced to third parties, or attempt to set up direct channels of communication with each. Neither approach is ideal, as you are either speaking to people who are not fully in control of the process, or speaking to multiple people from several organisations, which is time-consuming at best, and plain confusing at worst.
Externiture are experts in manufacture, installation and maintenance. Our operations are run centrally from our own premises, and we have a presence throughout the UK. Because we carry out our own work, you can be sure that we are always totally in control and up-to-speed with the exact status of a project at any one time. Our clients also know that they will be speaking to the same, senior people, each of whom is very experienced and knows exactly what is happening. As well as simply knowing our stuff, we also hope that we’re pleasant to deal with. This is reassuring to clients for a number of reasons: it saves time, improves consistency and makes communication more of a pleasure than a chore.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our summary of why we felt we were awarded these contracts, and that it has provided food for thought to those of you who have similar decisions to make.