In January 2020, the Connect4SuccessRCT project set out to grow stronger links between local public sector buyers and local businesses in Rhondda Cynon Taf in order to grow it’s foundational economy.
During that time, the team have connected with public sector officers who have been trying to both manage radical change of services and plan for the county’s long-term recovery in response to COVID19. The team have also unearthed a wealth of local businesses, energised entrepreneurs and quite simply remarkable individuals who have been tirelessly working to keep their businesses afloat and service their local communities.
As well as growing links between the stakeholders, the team have created a business directory and an online toolkit full of helpful information about the project Connect4SuccessRCT.
Dafydd Thomas said “This project has been an amazing experience during a very difficult time. All our stakeholders have played their part of bringing into sharp focus the role that public sector procurement and local businesses can play in making our communities more resilient.
"We've learned a number of lessons along the way during this project. Public sector organisations are customers for local businesses that aren’t going anywhere - they are anchor organisations that have an income and need supplies and services with which to operate. They have budgets that can make a significant impact on the communities in which they operate - and that procurement function could be better used as a strategic enabler of change within these local communities - by making the decision to invest in local suppliers where possible (and also accepting that it won’t be possible everywhere).
"Public sector organisations have in the past looked for the cheapest option without considering the other value of what local suppliers can offer in terms of social impact and benefits. And that organisations with long distance supply chance are vulnerable when those supply chains are threatened. As a result, a service provider is only as good as its supply chain. Vulnerable supply chain = vulnerable service.
"All the changes that have taken place as a consequence of the COVID19 pandemic have caused lots of pain to local businesses - so they need support.
Another key lesson is that a lot of this work is based developing relationships - and that takes time. And that needs to be recognised.
We also have been able to do is inform potential buyers about the strengths and qualities of the businesses who have connected to the project."
On the difference that this project has made to people, Dafydd said:
"We’ve brought people together, facilitated connections, built up relationships and shared opportunities. We’ve explored the challenges of e-tendering, sharing tenders and procurement plans with the business we work with.
"We’ve pulled together a business directory and given their business an online profile (for some for the first time), and we’ve informed them of their role within the foundational economy - and given them a narrative as to why their business is important part of the jigsaw within the valley’s community and economy.
"We’ve encouraged public sector buyers to think about these local businesses needs when we’ve represented their views to potential clients in RCT and local business development agencies that operate in the area.
"What has been challenging for local businesses is when the Connect4Success project has talked about a ‘golden future' – where many of the businesses who connected with us had a much shorter view and immediate needs - such as keeping their business afloat. So we’ve adapted and provided those who have connected with the opportunities mentioned earlier."
Whilst the project is drawing to a close in its current form, Dafydd has offered advice to businesses and local public sector organisations on how the can continue to develop the focundational economy.
"For local businesses I would encourage them to consider how they can contribute to the foundational economy - and in particular for them to consider opportunities within the public sector.
"I would also encourage every business to look at their own supply chains - and where possible, shorten them, make local choices and invest in businesses / suppliers that are closer to home. And also consider collaborating or co-operating rather than outcompeting to help all parts of the economy thrive as we try to recover from the debilitating impacts of the pandemic.
"For local public sector organisations - as part of their requirement to deliver on the Future Generations Goals, creating resilient communities and supporting the multiplier effect of local investment, supporting local suppliers should be championed as an outcome of the procurement process (that trumps value and cost). Public sectors investing in something like Connect4Success as a co-operative would bring about added benefits such as local wealth creation and additional opportunities that in turn create numerous social benefits and impact that would help the communities in which these public services operate. There’s a lot of support out there, a change of approach shouldn’t cost the earth."
This project has been gratefully funded by the Welsh Government’s Foundational Economy Challenge Fund.