Big business and the localism agenda aren’t always seen as natural bedfellows but that’s not the view of Kier, whose approach to long-term partnering in housing maintenance is providing far-reaching benefits across the North of England.
With public sector housing maintenance contracts typically spanning five years or more, this allows plenty of time to create a legacy which will make a real difference locally, according to Regional Director for Kier Housing Maintenance North, Phil Oades.
Keeping the Barnsley pound in Barnsley is a priority for the Local Authority and for us
When it comes to providing employment opportunities for local people, boosting the local economy, supporting local supply chains and good causes, leaders like Kier are passionate about putting communities first. Not only is it the right thing to do but it also makes sound business sense.
In Barnsley, we have provided housing maintenance services since 2010, creating employment opportunities for 120 local people. More than 80 per cent of our team live in a Barnsley postcode and we are developing new talent locally while improving the life chances of the next generation growing up in this area of South Yorkshire.
As well as a full programme of school visits and mentoring opportunities, Kier has provided 180 work placements and 26 apprenticeship opportunities have led to 24 people finding full-time employment either with us or our local supply chain.
Keeping the Barnsley pound in Barnsley is a priority for the Local Authority and for us, and 96 per cent of all material purchases are local, with over £21m spent in the supply chain since 2010. We have also made a significant contribution to community events and sponsorship, with £13,000 going to good causes.
The approach we have adopted in Barnsley is also used across our other contracts. People often assume that when a national contractor moves into an area they come complete with a national supply chain but this is not the case. While we do use national buying power to get the best deals for clients, we prefer to work with local branches and outlets of national companies, where we can support local businesses and help local economies to grow.
At times this means using our expertise to mentor local suppliers and to provide them with certainty of work so they can scale-up to meet demand. For example, in Lincoln, we started working with a small plumbing firm and by providing a regular pipeline of work and careful support, that business has grown and now operates across the wider Lincolnshire area for multiple clients.
But it’s not just about economic benefits. We have shown that significant, local, social value impacts are achievable as well. In North Tyneside, the Kier housing maintenance team runs an award-winning training scheme for young people between the ages of 16 and 18, not in education, employment or training (NEETs). Since 2013, more than 100 NEETs from North Tyneside have completed the 11-month full-time work-based training scheme called Working Roots, developed jointly with North Tyneside Council and Justice Prince CIC, a Tyneside community development organisation.
Students on the scheme work in council properties as part of our team, developing skills such as fencing, gardening, painting and decorating and cleaning. We also support them in achieving formal Maths or English qualifications. As a result, many have gone on to secure employment and training opportunities locally and youth offending teams who monitor progress have reported a significant reduction in reoffending by those participating.
As well as winning local and national awards, Working Roots has been praised by the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird DBE QC, who described the project as delivering ‘positive change for the whole wider community’ as well as for the individuals concerned. For me, initiatives like Working Roots epitomise how we can tackle stigma to build and celebrate thriving communities, a priority of the recent Social Housing Green paper.
When you talk about a national company like Kier, it is easy to make the mistake of thinking about a large separate entity. In fact, our employees and our offices make up the fabric of the towns and communities where we operate. This means we have a huge stake in doing the right thing locally and I am proud of the work we have achieved to support individuals and local economies across the North. By working closely with clients and focussing on what matters most to them, we can help bring about real societal change, where it is needed most. This brings benefits for us too; we gain access to a committed local workforce, our employees see and feel motivated by our involvement and we get to leave a lasting legacy in the places which our teams call home.