Public services range from the dangerous to the routine. But they are all essential to maintaining a safe and secure society, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

From firefighting to paying pensions, the public sector underpins our society. Its vital role has been thrown into sharp relief by COVID-19 and the public have rightly applauded the efforts of all key public workers, including those in the NHS.

Even before the pandemic, the public sector was facing growing demand for its services and was under pressure to do more with less. In this environment, Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) is often first in line to make savings. There are multiple challenges in managing procurement across a very diverse range of activities, from policing and hospitals to refuse collection. And the sheer number of public sector organisations makes cost control even harder.

The public sector employs 5.34 million people in the UK working for 562 central government bodies and more than 400 local councils, ranging from districts to counties and cities. Despite the introduction of civil service procurement frameworks and purchasing cooperation between some councils, the sector still has multiple buying centres.

When including housing associations, colleges and academy schools, the number of public service organisations who need MRO support is well over 1,000.

Professionals in the sector face many of the same issues as their private-sector colleagues, particularly around mechanisms introduced to reduce costs, such as creating more levels of sign-off for purchases.

Taking up the challenge
However, the best-designed budgetary controls can be tested if staff make one-off purchases locally. As well as often costing more, ad hoc purchases incur hidden costs in setting up new vendors, raising purchase orders and processing invoices and payments.

eProcurement tools can play a vital role here. Solutions such as RS PurchasingManager™ allow budgetary controls to be managed by delegating buying to line managers within pre-set spending limits.

A customisable tool that lets managers place orders using mobile devices works well in public services operating in multiple locations. And simplifying and automating the purchasing processes, especially when using a single purchase order to a trusted supplier, can save significant costs.

Indirect Procurement Report 2020 – The evolution of MRO procurement, compiled by RS with the support of the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS), found that the average UK organisation is using 88 different MRO suppliers. Almost half (43%) of purchasers across all sectors said ensuring better procurement contract compliance was one of their biggest day to day challenges in an environment where cost pressures are mounting.

Over half (59%) of UK MRO professionals said reducing operational budgets was their top business pressure. Almost three quarters of UK companies already use some form of vendor-managed inventory for MRO supplies and 17% said the pandemic had prompted them to rationalise the number of suppliers they were using in order to improve procurement efficiency.

As in other sectors, holding enough stock to meet operational needs while avoiding costly overstocking is vital. But some emergencies cannot be foreseen, even in the best-planned organisation.

Enhancing hospital safety
Although the public sector has fewer process activities than, say, manufacturing, condition monitoring has proved its worth in areas where plant and equipment plays a vital role, such as in keeping NHS hospital operating theatres sterile.

As well as filtering air to prevent infections entering sterile zones, operating theatre fans are used to maintain positive air pressure within surgical areas so that air from other parts of the hospital cannot enter when doors are opened.

The problem is that clinical staff are unlikely to notice if the fans fail and pressure drops. The RS Maintenance Solutions team has installed sensors on a number of hospital air systems which not only warn of imminent failures, but generate data about the operation of the whole system.

By using cloud-data analytics, is has been possible to devise routine maintenance schedules to take account of the actual performance of components so that scheduled servicing can eliminate the risk of sudden failures.

If, despite everyone’s best efforts, a sudden problem does occur, RS Local branches across the UK offer a click-and-collect service with components available in as little as 15 minutes from the order being placed.

Technology is also transforming the way health and social care services are delivered, with smart technology providing new opportunities for patients to be treated at home or to be remotely monitored when recovering from hospital treatments.

As new innovations transform the whole public sector, it is becoming even more vital for public service organisations to have a value-added MRO service provider who can support their diverse needs.

RS has unique insights into the needs of the public services because its teams are helping the sector every day to remain fully operational, through the multiple new challenges of the pandemic.