Vercity Voices – Gavin Barden
Gavin Barden is a Senior Asset Manager at Vercity. He joined Vercity in 2020 and has had the opportunity to work across multiple sectors. We recently had the chance to get his thoughts on his experiences and his work at Vercity.
Of particular interest are two projects he is supporting which are approaching contract expiry. He is also managing the condition surveys of a major healthcare project in London.
Contract expiry is topical in the industry at the moment; what’s your involvement?
I’ve been supporting two projects approaching expiry and they’re very different.
The first is a police accommodation project that expires this month! The contract has limited provisions and places the emphasis on the service provider, who has the majority of the lifecycle risk. So, our role has been to scrutinise and check how they are ensuring compliance.
The second is an education project with a little over three years to expiry. This project has more clearly defined provisions which remain with the Project Company. This means there is more emphasis on leading the process and actively ensuring that the contract requirements for survey and outputs will be delivered.
In both cases we’ve been brought in to support the existing SPV management team who have their hands full with the “business-as-usual” on the projects. It is important to enable additional resource on both sides to support the process. Early engagement helps us to ensure collaboration through the final stages of the project. This is the opportunity to really ensure projects are left in the position the contract envisaged for when they are to move back to public sector management, proving the point of the original PFI and PPP concepts.
I’ve also recently joined an IPA working group on surveys at expiry and how to best assess condition. I’m feeding in the practical experience into the outputs from that group. It is a difficult subject to get right, as different contracts require different deliverables. However, to try and adapt a best practice approach that can be adopted by private and public sector, has got to be in everyone’s interests.
What are the challenges you’re finding on the police project?
It’s a mixture of accommodation types and it has some interesting features, like custody suites (which are cells to you or I). There’s no contract requirement to have a survey and limited provisions for post-expiry. So, the focus has been on ensuring all aspects of the estate meet the specification right up until the final day of the contract.
We were commissioned to inspect the project sites and provide a report. In the process we identified that there were works required. In response, our commission evolved to support the contractor in delivering those works. A static report would have served a purpose, but developing the process to help support everyone involved has allowed us to add more value.
We identified an opportunity to enhance the asset records beyond what the contract required. This would have helped support the post-expiry provision. Unfortunately, by that stage, expiry was too close to take advantage of the opportunity presented.
Other project parties have been involved in the discussions, and in the facilitation of the data and information to be handed over. This has been a big piece of work. However, having us involved to support the work on lifecycle and asset condition, has given them more capacity to deal with the other aspects of the handback, making the process more efficient and effective.
Do you find that accommodation projects like schools and police differ from healthcare?
Yes and no. They’re all buildings, so the differences are not as pronounced as they might be for our colleagues working on roads, streetlights, or other asset classes. Different sectors have their own particular needs.
Healthcare is a very regulated environment, and you have to ensure compliance with the additional standards that the NHS sets out to ensure safety and an effective clinical environment. And, of course, there are additional complex systems within the healthcare setting which require careful consideration during the lifecycle process, as they have a significant user impact.
Does that mean sector specific knowledge is an absolute requirement to manage the assets?
It’s fair to say that all projects, whether it is Housing, Schools, Custodial or Healthcare, have unique challenges. Some are greater than others. Having relevant knowledge, either in yourself or in the team around you, is definitely helpful. Ultimately, we are there to provide a service and overcome any obstacles.
Fortunately, at Vercity we have a lot of experience in different sectors. We are lucky to have that within the business. So, there is always someone you can reach out to or involve in a commission.
How did your career lead you to Vercity?
I worked within the FM industry for over 20 years delivering services to Defence and Healthcare contracts. I enjoyed the role in both sectors but felt that I could add more at a strategic level to provide innovative solutions to lifecycle works, survey delivery or general day to day operations. As mentioned earlier, I joined Vercity and have had a varied portfolio of projects to get involved with. A baptism of fire, if you like, into the PFI world… it’s been great!
What do you find most rewarding about doing the work that you do?
I’m a problem solver. I enjoy looking for the best way to provide the solution to a problem. Looking outside of the box and developing strategies to the requirement, whatever it is. I will always be the one asking, ‘but what if’ or ‘could we’ to challenge the norm and look at the alternatives available.
I also enjoy working with people and at Vercity, both in the Operations and Consultancy Teams, we have great people.
Outside work, what have you been doing in your spare time recently?
I have many hobbies and interests away from work, however the last six months I have been building an extension to our house. Apart from the roof covering and electrical works, I built the whole structure, including internal finishes and kitchen. Lots of early mornings and late nights! However, now it is time for a long-earned rest and maybe pick up the cycling and many other things I want to do!
Gavin is one of the Vercity team involved in supporting projects approaching contract expiry and Project Exit. To learn more about Vercity’s experience in this area, follow us on LinkedIn.