As one of the largest housing associations in the UK, procurement is a crucial part of the day-to-day business at Clarion Housing Group...
The slogan for Clarion Housing Group is ‘Building Homes. Developing Futures’. It’s a bold concept which perfectly encapsulates the company’s vision: to develop large-scale housing projects whilst creating a meaningful impact on residents’ lives.
Today, the company has set itself the immense challenge of building 50,000 high-quality homes over the next 10 years. For Head of Procurement, Kirsty Bower, this is not only an impressive feat from a procurement point of view – “we’re expecting to procure over a million windows over the next 10 years,” she says - but it also demonstrates the company’s social purpose, as the Group will offer two thirds of these homes as affordable housing.
“Ultimately, we want to provide homes and improve our residents’ lives so that they can put down roots,” says Bower. “At Clarion, we see ourselves as a business with a social purpose. We have the ability to be very commercial but at the same time we’re not doing that to deliver profits into shareholders pockets; we're doing that to see a bigger benefit in terms of social value and social impact.”
Shining a light on procurement
The largest housing association in the UK, Clarion Housing Group was created in 2016 following a merger between Affinity Sutton and Circle Housing Group. Bower has held the position of Head of Procurement for over nine years, remaining loyal to the company throughout the merger. Throughout her time, she has seen a significant change in perspective towards procurement.
“Procurement can often be undervalued by companies,” reflects Bower. “When I first entered the sector, procurement only came on the radar because housing associations were being caught out by EU procurement regulations.
“At Clarion Housing Group we believe that procurement isn’t just about regulation; it’s about how can we drive value out of the money that we are spending. I think the message that procurement is vital to business has always been present at the company because of the level it has been able to influence at, for instance, my role reports directly into the Group Executive Director for Governance and Compliance, something that wasn’t often seen in the sector when I joined.”
Raising professional standards
By observing the highest procurement standards, Clarion Housing Group was one of the first housing associations to achieve the CIPS Corporate Accreditation. Bower says that this demonstrates the company’s commitment to maintaining the highest level of processes and professionalism.
“I think CIPS helped us to benchmark what we were doing and re-inforce that there are always new things that you can learn. It was a real eye-opener in terms of where we were doing really well and areas where we needed to do more work. I think the other benefit was that it demonstrated the value of procurement and my team internally to the company and externally to our supplier base. It also helped the junior members of staff feel more valued. It doesn't matter how much you tell someone they're doing a good job if they see themselves that they helped to achieve the CIPS certification - that is really empowering.”
Procurement is interwoven into all aspects of business life at Clarion Housing Group and not only does it help the company, it also benefits the supply chain.
“If we want people to bid so that we can get the best contracts, we've got to have the best processes, we've got to be professional, and we've got to be transparent. I think the CIPS accreditation demonstrates that and that’s really important from a procurement perspective, because the more diverse your supply chain the more value you can derive from it.”
Since its creation, Clarion Housing Group has achieved great things; last year it built 1,340 homes, engaged with over 10,000 young people and provided £130,000 of grants to help communities. However, for Bower, these achievements wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication and expertise of the company’s staff.
“I really want to stress that the success of procurement and the success of getting the CIPS accreditation is down to the team,” Bower says. “It’s an enjoyable organisation to work in; it’s not hierarchal, it is innovation-based and the staff really drive the company towards the end-goal of improving residents’ lives.”
The housing industry faces pressing challenges, as skill shortages and tightening budgets adversely impact the sector. However, Clarion Housing Group aims to mitigate such challenges by pre-emptively enhancing its supply chain, which is the cornerstone of its successes.
“Not only do we want a diverse supply chain, we also want to ensure that it’s resilient and can mitigate industry challenges such as skills shortages,” Bower says. “To tackle this challenge, we are in the process of setting up a supply chain management programme to help develop SME’s and look into how we can develop the market and can help them access our supply chains.”
Clarion Housing Group is also preparing for industry challenges through technological prowess and continuous innovation. In what is described as “a huge project” for the company, Clarion Housing Group is implementing an ERP system through which every area of the company will be connected.
“I think the opportunities that this is going to afford us are going to be immense,” says Bower. “It's a really exciting project, it's huge, and I think that will help revolutionise our services going forward.”
A new perspective
With a heritage spanning over 100 years, Clarion Housing Group has established itself as a major player in the housing market, tackling bold large-scale projects whilst still maintaining a social purpose. The housing market may face uncertainty, but Clarion Housing Group is well prepared for any challenges that may come its way.
”The merger gave us the opportunity to take a step back momentarily and take a look at the wider picture of the industry and how we can move forward. We now have had time to review the landscape and chart where we want the company to go.”