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Direct action

The Direct Line Group property team partnered with Ascot Services and Mainstay Group to deliver an award-winning FM service across the DLG estate. We find out how the unusual three-way model was developed

The Direct Line Group (DLG) property team won the 2019 IWFM award for innovation in supplier relationships, in recognition of its successful working partnership with smaller FM providers Ascot Services (hard services) and Mainstay Group (soft services). The win marked the latest milestone in DLG’s journey of creating employee experiences that engage its people while developing sustainable and mutually beneficial supplier-client relationships. The effects are showcased at the company’s Bristol offices, where Ascot Services and Mainstay Group first took on the FM services mantle (since extended to the whole group).

DLG is a leading motor, home and small business insurer which boasts well-known brands such as Direct Line, Churchill, Privilege, Green Flag and NIG Direct Line Group. The present company was formed in 2012 when the Royal Bank of Scotland Group began to divest itself of its insurance division. Mark Lennon helped set up the standalone DLG property team and was Head of Property before later moving on to become Operations Director at Ascot Services.

He explains: “Our original brief was to ‘keep lights on, keep us safe and don’t get in the way of the IPO’, but we started to explore how the workplace environment could have a material impact on employee engagement. We began to sell that story internally as part of our capital investment programme, and as we began refurbishing the estate we looked at how we could provide enhanced environments that could help improve engagement and productivity.”

The first major opportunity to achieve this on a large scale was in 2016 in Leeds, where flooding led to an urgent move to house around 900 members of staff. Ascot Services was engaged to help deliver the refit, which proved so successful it was asked to assist again with the acquisition of a new site for the Bristol offices. The decision was taken to bring the new building back to slab, and Ascot undertook the M&E design, working closely with the architects to translate the design concepts and ideas into practice.

Says Lennon: “We also took the opportunity to talk about how we could better run the building. Working with our suppliers Carillion at that time was very challenging – they didn’t use data, which meant they didn’t understand the customer. Because of what DLG does, data analytics is part of its DNA, so it was frustrating to deal with an organisation that ignored that. This was one of the reasons we went to market to look at alternatives.”

Meanwhile, DLG Property Supplier Performance Manager Diane Iles, who has a background in customer service, was impressed by Ascot’s professionalism in managing the refit. She was equally impressed by Mainstay’s concierge-style management of the residential areas at the top of the building. “They both had very different backgrounds,” she says, “and we thought, wouldn’t it be good to get the two together and play to their strengths? So we asked them to pitch for the hard and soft services together.”

Mainstay was engaged to provide workplace services, delivered by a high-end customer-focused front of house and housekeeping team, while Ascot’s team of skilled engineers took charge of reactive and proactive asset management. The contract mobilised in December 2017. But a month later, Carillion – still responsible for FM services throughout the rest of DLG’s estate – threw a spanner in the works by going into liquidation.

This meant the procurement process for the remaining 16 sites had to be dramatically speeded up. Says Lennon: “On the plan was something like a nine-month procurement process, but following Carillion’s collapse we had to condense that into four weeks. We narrowed the shortlist down to include a couple of big named TFM providers, along with the Ascot-Mainstay model.”

Recalls Iles: “The perception was that a ‘lift and shift’ approach with another big TFM provider would be the quickest and safest solution, but we kept an open mind throughout the whole selection process. Ascot and Mainstay won the bid by demonstrating their desire and passion for delivering the best possible service. The main things for us were their combined focus on customer service and their agility. Ascot had already proved itself very agile regarding the building management systems and actively working with us on energy savings, while Mainstay’s background in high-end concierge pushed customer services to a new level.”

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