I first heard of my six-month posting to Blenheim in a tiny internet café in Sicily. I was on holiday and taking a break from the heat by checking emails. A message from the fast stream civil service resourcing team informed me that my next posting would be a secondment to the voluntary sector. My mood, already happy from days of sea, sun and pasta, was cheered enormously by the prospect of joining Blenheim.
My good feelings were confirmed once I’d arrived. Blenheim’s central office staff were enormously welcoming. Cathy, my line manager for the posting, organised a brilliant induction and I got to meet the Chief Executive and other senior staff immediately. I was part of the Business Development Unit at Blenheim, an important part of the organisation dedicated to ensuring that it is able to submit high quality bids to provide drug and alcohol services. I was astonished by the sheer amount of information required to fill in a tender (and all within such short deadlines)! I never thought I’d develop so much knowledge about how to undertake First Aid at Work assessments nor about drug and alcohol training courses.
It was fascinating to see the tender process from end to end – from attending a buyer’s event and then helping the team make decisions on which services to bid for and to then moving from the Pre-Qualification questionnaire (PQQ) stage to the final tender. For a small charity such as Blenheim, I was impressed by the ambition and professionalism with which tenders were undertaken – on occasions Blenheim led bids for multi-million pound contracts with NHS and other voluntary sector partners. I was happy that I was able to help a team that had won six of its last seven tender applications.
As part of my time with Blenheim, I also got to visit a couple of Blenheim’s frontline services. I won’t forget going to the police station, including visiting cells, to see how Blenheim works in partnership with police and other agencies as part of its Drug Intervention Programme. I also attended Blenheim’s KC North Hub service and was impressed with the staff’s commitment to their service users (for example adjusting opening times to accommodate service users who wished to keep visits discrete).
Part of the scheme I am on encourages us to think about how things could be done differently. I would definitely look at procurement processes for public sector contracts. I did find it remarkable that external organisations were given little time to develop proposals for services lasting several years. This is an area the Government has recognised and my previous job posting at the Cabinet Office had been looking at how the public sector could procure more effectively and efficiently.
I’ve had a fantastic time at Blenheim. I will miss the camaraderie of the team led, admirably by Cathy, and the dedication and commitment of individuals working with some of society’s most vulnerable individuals. I wish the organisation all the best as it expands in future!
Noor Salik, Civil Service secondee on the Charity Next scheme.