Lyndon Watkins, managing director, Newport Norse Limited
Newport Norse is an innovative facilities management joint venture solution devised in the face of government cuts for Newport City Council. Lyndon Watkins talks to BQ about how they encourage a culture of innovation.
What does your business do?
In July 2014 Newport City Council and Norse (a public services company wholly owned by Norfolk County Council) entered into a 10-year joint venture agreement, creating "Newport Norse" to transform service delivery and provide an improved managed property and facilities service for the council. The business is a total facilities management service, which provides for a range of services from capital construction projects, to reactive maintenance, building cleaning, asset management, surveying, valuation, and catering. As an independent company, Newport Norse can work for any client and create income streams from areas within the total facilities management client community in South Wales and the wider locality.
What innovative products, services, materials or processes do you have relevant to the construction sector?
Newport Norse is unique and cutting edge, being the first wholly publically owned local authority property services joint venture in Wales. It is an innovative, public sector designed, and public sector run service delivery model. It utilises the Teckal exemption under EU Procurement rules to build a new approach to local authority service delivery. It is a solution that allows public bodies to formally collaborate and provides an alternative to a traditionally outsourced private sector delivered market offering. It brings into play in Wales a repeatable model, already in place in other local authorities across the United Kingdom. It overlays best practice, efficiency, streamlined management and a commercial culture to create long term efficiencies, beyond the balance sheet for local authorities. All profits made are recycled back into the public sector.
Newport Norse provides the “intelligent client” function for the Newport City Council and other clients as well as professional services related to the project delivery such as architecture, quantity surveying and engineering. All profits are recycled back into the public sector and locally 50% of profits are fed back into Newport City Council. We also have the flexibility to work with the council at a strategic level to create better value and are involved from cradle to grave with respect to the delivery of construction projects.
Newport City Council has spearheaded this ground-breaking and cutting-edge approach in Wales, as an alternative to service cuts. In 2013/2014, the council decided after much analysis and internal debate, to seek an approach to reduce the costs of its already lean property and asset management service. This included both front line maintenance and repair services, as well as estates and property professional services. It also recognised that it needed to retain a service offering to manage its current estate, its construction programme, and deliver upon its regeneration aspirations for a fast-growing city. In its analysis, it discounted an outsourced solution to the private sector as being too high risk. Instead, it opted to speak to the Norfolk County Council-owned Norse Group to explore an alternative. This alternative has, since its inception, delivered circa £980,000 in profits rebated back to the council.
What difference does innovating make to your business?
The uniqueness of the Newport Norse model is keenly monitored across the Norse Group. Regular feedback to the group is undertaken by the Newport Norse managing director through regular group meetings but also through direct contact with staff and customers through regular meetings and discussions. The culture engendered in the joint venture is one where staff debate and discuss approaches to service delivery, and incremental change is a daily occurrence. This is particularly important because Newport Norse is the only joined up public sector joint venture service offering currently in place in Wales.
The savings in back office costs and co-location of staff has fed through to better returns for the council and is shaping how Norse designs new joint ventures with other public sector clients. Newport Norse has a detailed marketing strategy and two business development staff dedicated to the service offering in Wales. Newport Norse is also represented on Welsh Government groups and sits on the Consortium of Local Authorities Wales (CLAW) client and technical groups. Within these, Newport Norse is keen to share knowledge and experience for the benefit of the public sector and is keen to work with any public body who is in difficulty and simply looking for advice.
As well as this, it works with charities such as St David’s Hospice Wales providing support through catering and cleaning, and as an example, has drawn in catering experience from elsewhere in the group to benefit an offering locally. This is an example of something that wouldn't have been available locally previously. This is done through an ethos of collaboration and a soft commercial approach focused on public benefit.
How do you manage innovation; how do you encourage staff to innovate in their jobs?
Newport Norse and the Norse Group, in general, are a staff orientated business. Our unofficial local motto is "public heart, private sector mind". We have also developed a formal approach called the "Norse Way", which is founded on training, development, volunteering, paying at least the national living wage, providing good pensions, adopting wellbeing initiatives such as the provision of fruit through the year, free eye tests, the ability for anyone to nominate colleagues for an award, through to traditional bonuses, gift vouchers and less formal celebrations of staff achievements. Newport Norse's intention is to provide careers for staff, not just jobs. This has meant staff turnover is very low and through our apprenticeship and graduate scheme we work to bring staff right through the organisation.
How do you encourage innovation in your supply chain, or in those that you partner with?
All members of the supply chain must share our ethos of public service and put public good over purely profit. We ensure that we engage in partnering charters with suppliers to ensure that from a symbolic perspective all partners are bought into the ethos. We actively encourage partners to share knowledge across the supply chain - not just vertically - and we are keen to create repeatable models of working that can be rolled out across the public sector. We engage in various forums to allow this communication and knowledge to be transferred throughout the supply chain.
What is the most interesting/innovative contract or development you have been involved in?
Primary school meals proposal where we propose reducing the current charges for school meals by 5%, improving the quality of food to ensure it is all of the highest standard, prepared freshly and recycle £100,000 of profit per annum (over 5 years) to the council, with a total of £500,000 over the period. This money can then be used to protect front line council services which the public rely on. In financial year 2018/2019 Norse Group rebated over £7m back to the public sector across the UK.
What has been your biggest challenge with embedding a culture of innovation?
The biggest challenge has been changing the culture and the way transferred staff work. The staff challenge has been a journey from the local government culture to one where staff understand the commercial reality of the private sector, feel empowered, and benefit from internal and external collaboration. A transformation programme has enabled this to happen incrementally whilst improving staff morale, efficiency and productivity.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to increase their innovation?
Ensure that their company has a clear set of values, objectives that are easily understood. That the organisational culture enables all staff to feel empowered to innovate on a personal level, but also collectively through internal collaboration with staff, and also externally with customers and industry peers. This is key to identifying opportunities to innovate and build a longer term innovation plan.
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
Newport Norse’s plan for the next 2 – 5 years is to build new offices to remove any physical barriers to internal collaboration and improve the way we work as an organisation. This will involve a detailed:
Construction Wales Innovation Index is a major initiative to identify some of Wales' most innovative companies across the construction and built environment sector, looking particularly at the supply chain to highlight the depth of the sector and its relevance to the future economic prosperity of the sector in Wales.
The campaign will showcase nominated companies through inspiring content via a digital campaign and a series of events and debates shining the spotlight on Wales' most purpose driven construction companies and their businesses.
For more info visit https://www.innovation100cw.co.uk/.
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