Major Capital Investment for West Thames College as Part of Outsourced Catering Mini-Competition

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Outsourcing Catering at West Thames College

West Thames College is a general FE college based on a main campus at Isleworth and a Skills Centre in Feltham, both in the London Borough of Hounslow.

The brief

West Thames College has always maintained an in-house catering service on both campuses. Unfortunately, the cost of providing the service has become unsustainable - a college subsidy of approximately £90K a year had to be injected to continue the service.

In the summer of 2014 the college took the decision to actively seek alternative proposals to reduce the deficit. One option was outsourcing the service to specialist contractors. Given that the catering as a business would have a sales turnover of around £500K per year, producing a detailed specification and a robust contract seemed daunting to the college. Knowing how to factor in all the quality, environmental, financial and human resources issues was not something they felt capable of undertaking without specialist support.

The criteria

Once the decision had been made to tender for the contract it seemed to the college that there were only two credible routes to achieve our objectives - to use a consultant to manage the tender process, or to use an existing framework to simplify the process. Fortunately, being a member of Crescent Purchasing Consortium (CPC) meant that they had access to both options. Martin Angell, Specialist Adviser (Catering) at Crescent Purchasing Consortium was fully able to provide the professional expertise required and led the college through the process using the CPC framework.

Clearly, the key objective was to reduce the cost of providing the catering service whilst maintaining high standards and finding a partner we could work with that could enhance the student experience in terms of work experience, apprenticeships and industry insight, as well as providing a vibrant and exciting catering offer.

The outcome

Martin led the college through a mini competition process over a period of approximately two months. There was a strong field of interested contractors, many of whom were willing to provide a substantial capital sum for physical improvements to the catering facilities (the winning bid offered major capital investment to refurbish the catering outlets) and guarantee a nil cost contract to the college. Profit sharing after the first year of the contract was factored in, suppliers were quizzed on introducing high street brands and expected to have an emphasis on good value, fresh and healthy menus. Substantial capital investment and innovative ideas to deal with perceived issues were also written into the brief.

CPC organised presentations from interested contractors including taste sessions involving staff and students. An evaluation meeting was chaired by Martin who prepared an evaluation process based on weighted key elements of the tender document making the process painless, thorough and auditable.

Ultimately the College decided to award the contract to Aramark Ltd, who had added value in terms of support to the curriculum and student experience and who showed an understanding and ability to provide what was required from the contact. Satisfied with the conclusion of the exercise, West Thames are looking forward to a successful and profitable partnership with Aramark for the foreseeable future.

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