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Local benefits that last

Birmingham City Council’s waste collection modernisation programme represents a significant step-change for the region, with a move from black refuse bags and recycling boxes to wheeled bin collections for domestic waste and recycling.

Implementing this transformation across an area the size of Birmingham, and educating residents about the changes, is no mean feat. It also involves a complete overhaul of the council’s refuse collection vehicle (RCV) fleet.

Dennis Eagle was delighted to have been given the opportunity to tender for the contract. But it was clear from the outset that it was far more than just an arrangement to supply vehicles.

The council was looking for something markedly different, and the company worked to create a package of measures that would not only enable it to implement the new service, but also ensure it could deliver a wide-reaching programme of change that would deliver lasting value to local communities.

A key factor behind this was the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. This legislation, which came into force in January 2013, imposes a duty on all public bodies in England and Wales to consider how the services they commission or procure can be used to improve the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the area, both now and in the future. In turn, this means that suppliers also have a duty to demonstrate how they can deliver tangible and lasting benefits when tendering for public service contracts.

The Public Services Act is not prescriptive. But despite its introduction and the potential benefits it can offer, a survey conducted by the Social Value Portal in July last year highlighted that fewer than 30% of councils had a relevant policy in place to guide procurement and contracting teams, with some even being unaware of the Act’s existence.

The survey also showed that 80% of those who were aware of the Act had asked for additional guidance on measurement, legal issues and procurement advice, with 75% believing that businesses were not yet prepared to respond.

Contrary to this, there are positive examples that showcase how the public sector is working alongside suppliers from the private sector to put the Public Services Act into practice, and Birmingham City Council is a leading example.

Cost has often been taken at face value when awarding contracts, and this was particularly evident during the depths of the recession, with both the public and private sectors under pressure to deliver short-term savings.

But the Act has challenged this mindset and, as Dennis Eagle’s contract with Birmingham City Council demonstrates, it is helping to produce a more sustainable approach to procurement by ensuring that value for money is delivered for now and the longer-term.

A pledge in Birmingham’s Leader’s Policy Statement of June 2012 set out to produce the Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility. This was drawn up following formal consultation with the business community and features six main principles for signatories:

  • Local employment: providing employment and training opportunities for local people, especially in target areas where unemployment is high
  • Buy Birmingham First: endorsing this principle throughout supply chains
  • Partners in communities: playing an active role in Birmingham’s neighbourhoods, working with community support organisations, especially in areas of the city in greatest need
  • Good employer: supporting staff development and welfare, adopting the ‘living wage’ within their organisation
  • Green and sustainable: protecting the environment and minimising waste and energy consumption while using other resources efficiently
  • Ethical procurement: employing the highest ethical standards in their own operations and those within their supply chain (paying their fair share of taxes, not supporting child labour, paying suppliers on time and so on)

More than 90 businesses are now accredited as part of the scheme, and Dennis Eagle was an early adopter.

As an ethical Midlands-based business committed to the future of UK manufacturing, we employ a large number of local people. We invest significantly in their training and development, resulting in a highly skilled workforce that has helped to ensure the continued success of the Dennis Eagle brand in the UK and the export market.

We also work closely with local suppliers, including 13 within the Birmingham region. This placed us in a strong position when bidding for the contract to supply new vehicles to the city council. But we recognised that we needed to offer something more to help the council improve the local community and embrace the principles that underpin the charter’s formation.

So we teamed up with a fellow signatory of the charter, Skips Educational, to commission a children’s book designed to teach the benefits of recycling and the positive effect this has on the environment.

Skips Educational is a pioneering Birmingham-based company that creates imaginative and innovative books for schools. The content it produces bridges the gap between home and school through enhanced parental engagement, and it has been recommended twice by the Times Educational Supplement as ‘Resource of the Week’.

Our book features Dennis the Dustcart, a fun character children can associate with the new vehicles they see on the streets. As part of our contract with Birmingham, we are funding 10,500 copies to be donated to schools.

The city council is using the Public Services Act to extract far-reaching social and economic value from its contracts with suppliers. We believe this approach to procurement is one that other councils can learn from.

The first of our vehicles have already hit roads across the city, helping Birmingham to roll out its ambitious programme of change, while the books are currently being prepared for distribution to schools.

As well as helping the council to fulfil the obligations of its charter, we believe it will play a key part in educating the grassroots in the community, ensuring that future generations change their views and perceptions of waste and helping to protect the environment for years to come.  

Richard Taylor is sales and marketing director at Dennis Eagle

Council viewpoint:

Why local procurement matters

Speaking about the decision back in November to invest locally, councillor Lisa Trickett said: “Our old RCV fleet was past its sell-by date with vehicles becoming increasingly unreliable, so this is much-needed investment. Research shows that when councils procure services and supplies locally, every pound can be recycled up to as many as three times in the wider local economy.

“This chimes well with the refuse collection service – our aim through the new wheelie bin programme is to recycle more, rather than throwing things away, and we are doing exactly the same when using our purchasing power to buy locally.”

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