In the latest instalment of our education procurement industry executive interview series, we spoke to ACE Advice Founding Partner Ian Henderson about his company, his career path leading to the state school sector, the issue of food price inflation and what can be done to manage this and other issues…
Who Are You?
I am Ian Henderson, one of the founding Partners of ACE Advice Ltd. ACE Advice is a sister company to ISCC, who were founded in 2007 and who work exclusively in the Independent School sector. I have worked in the contract catering and soft FM sectors since the mid 90s in a variety of operational and business development roles, which over time has brought me into the state school sector, where I am now a director of ACE Advice leading a team of consultants who offer expert advice and guidance to schools, academies and colleges in all things catering, cleaning and soft FM.
What do you do?
ACE Advice operates across the UK helping the leadership teams within schools and colleges optimise their catering and cleaning provisions, within either an outsourced contract or as a directly managed service. We provide independent expert advice, training and operational support for the catering and cleaning teams, procurement support and foodservice design expertise.
How does ACE Advice support the Education sector?
Across the ACE Advice team, we have expert consultants who have a deep understanding of the school catering and cleaning industries. We align our experts to match their strengths against specific challenges which may be concerning our customers.
If a school has an outsourced contract, the provision will still require a degree of management by the school, often our customers need support to understand the detail behind contractor behaviours and objectives, and oversight of the commercial arrangements included within the contract.
If the schools directly manage their provisions, it is unlikely that the leadership team has all the expertise within it to manage all of the aspects of a catering or cleaning provision.
There is a reliance on the catering manager or cleaning supervisor to be ‘up to date’ on all key requirements. Our teams bring training skills, procurement expertise and commercial understanding which can support both the school leadership teams and the catering manager or cleaning supervisor. Importantly we also advise on and audit legislation compliance.
When do your schools look for support from a consultancy like ACE Advice?
We are often engaged by customers when there are problems or when outsourced contracts are reaching their conclusion. We bring impartial and independent advice to help find a way forward which provides fair and equitable solutions for both the school and the suppliers. Problems begin to occur when there is a divergence of objectives or opinions.
We have just lived through a period of massive disruption caused by the pandemic, which has stress tested many relationships within the outsourced sectors and the schools. The commercial arrangements between contractors and their customers needed to be transformed into much more flexible terms to accommodate the unprecedented needs of the day.
The pandemic has either strengthened the bonds between supplier and customer or irreversibly damaged them. The result has been an increased level of activity for ACE Advice as schools begin to bring their contractual governance back inline with expectations, or the tendering of outsourced contracts which are life expired or are broken.
Food inflation – the issue of the moment, what can be done?
School meals are being impacted by food inflation, currently running between 8% and 10%. Now is the time for the catering teams to be proactive and look closely at the basic disciplines within the kitchens – menu planning, recipes, dish contents, stock control, waste management and sales.
Now is the time to revisit menus and recipes to manage the cost base, identifying and removing or replacing ingredients which are impacting on the financial performance of the kitchen. Smart recipe construction swapping out ingredients or entire dishes will be necessary to maintain control over the financial performance of the food sales.
Most well managed kitchens will already have good waste measurement / management behaviours in place – it is imperative effective production planning is in place – preparing the right quantities of dishes – in some cases it may be effective to remove some choice entirely. As we reach the end weeks of the school year, we would expect the food offering to be tailored to the reducing roll numbers as students leave school following exams.
If your supply chain is causing you particular concern, there are alternative suppliers who may offer a competitive edge. ACE Advice has carried out a number of food price benchmarking exercises. These cost-effective checks highlight areas of concern or demonstrate good value for money.
Smart procurement can help mitigate food inflation, working in a procurement framework with contract prices for ingredients will desensitise food purchases and potentially offer more certainty in these uncertain times.
To find out more about how we can support you, visit our website, https://www.ace-advice.co.uk/ or speak to our friendly team on 07833 265675.