Serco’s Performance Manager, Omar Richards, and Renaisi’s Head of Service Delivery, Jim Cotterrell discuss the challenges and benefits of partnership working on the Inspiring Families employment support programme.


Omar Richard

Omar Richards, Performance Manager at Serco

“My role is to ensure that there are clear communication lines between Serco and a network of subcontractors, to address any issues and areas for improvement, to make sure we meet our contractual obligations.”

Jim Cotterrell

Jim Cotterrell, Renaisi’s Head of Service Delivery

“We’ve been in partnership with Serco since 2017. I was hired to look after two new employability contracts, one of which was the Inspiring Families contract for Serco. In my very first week, I attended lots of meetings and training sessions with Serco.”

Jim: Before that I had been managing contracts supporting Londoners back into employment for nearly 10 years. Serco are absolutely huge compared to a social enterprise like Renaisi, but they were very open to working with us and using our London delivery expertise to their advantage. I must admit it was a new way of working.

Omar: Very accurate. We really want to collaborate with organisations on the supply chain to make the contract successful. It’s Renaisi that’s delivering the service for us but they are still working with Serco’s customers so we track contract performance, and also the quality of the interactions with customers.

What characteristics do you look for in a supply chain partner?

Omar: It was important for us to work with an organisation that had the right kind of ethos and a culture that closely aligns with our own. Serco has four core values: trust, innovation, care and pride:

We would build relationships with organisations that we think mirror this way of thinking and working.

Jim: Inspiring Families is for residents of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Redbridge, Enfield or Haringey who are unemployed and concerned about one of the following:

That specificity means we have had to think differently across the whole life of the contract about where best to find and engage customers. We built connections with a whole host of different organisations, in addition to the obvious ones like Jobcentre Plus and the DWP. We connected with local authorities’ children’s services and other relevant parts of the local authorities to understand their needs and sell them the value of the Inspiring Families contract; to them and their residents.

How has lockdown affected the partnership?

Jim: I’m proud of the work we did to move our service online at the start of the pandemic. We also discovered we were able to generate a lot of referrals through Facebook’s targeted advertising. We’re going to keep doing outreach and engagement online. 

Omar: Lockdown has changed a lot of the preconceptions about how people need to work. It has revealed there are a lot of things that you can do remotely, and that doesn’t negatively affect your productivity. Being innovative and working proactively to address areas around delivery and performance has been crucial over the last year. 

Jim: Absolutely, for some members of staff having that flexibility to work from home more, working with their customers by phone or online, has been really beneficial to their performance because they’re not having to travel constantly to go and see their customers.

The fact is by working from home they’ve been able to support more people into work. 

The other thing I’d like to mention was how we worked really closely with Serco on providing staff for the COVID test sites in London. Our employment programme participants were getting back to work and making sure that Londoners were appropriately tested for COVID. It was great to work with Serco on a really live problem like that, in order to not only satisfy the needs of their contract but also provide an important service to the wider community.

Omar: Yeah, well said. Thank you for that. It was quite a challenging contract for Serco to deliver that needed mobilising very fast, so the fact that the network could step in and get customer into employment quickly, that was very useful for us, and Renaisi led on a lot of the meetings to get that done.

What are the challenges of the supply chain model? 

Omar: Getting teams at the different organisations to buy into change can sometimes take a little bit longer than we would like. It’s winning hearts and minds that sometimes takes time.

Serco has started doing some delivery ourselves, which is a new step. We’ve always worked as a managing agent so doing delivery has helped us understand why improvement initiatives can sometimes take a while to turnaround or embed with our partners. 

Jim: But the great thing about working with Serco has been that the people, Omar, Kate, Sean, or Faisal – they’re all very experienced people working in employability. They understand the sector and they’ve always been extremely visible as well, sat with our team, working alongside them to work through challenges.

That has been important to iron out those things that don’t quite work operationally. Having that sort of presence makes it so much easier to work through problems. 

Omar: That’s true, before I joined Serco I worked for an organisation called Working Links for 13 years. I started out as a consultant, what we’d now call an advisor, and progressed to team manager. My role as a performance manager at Serco kicked off pretty much the same time as Jim joined Renaisi.

What’s different about Renaisi?

Omar: They’re very proactive – I know that if I needed anything or had any concerns, Jim is always there for me to reach out to. Feedback from the network is always important and the Inspiring Families programme manager, Asmara tends to give the most and the strongest feedback about performance data! Renaisi are always one of the first organisations to point out any issues and be proactive about solutions.  

I think Renaisi’s willingness to share any kind of identified best practice with the network is admirable. I would say that they have played an integral part in continuing to drive our performance in the right direction.

Omar Richards

Jim: Whether you work on employability services or in our research & evaluation team at Renaisi, there is a culture of sharing learning. It means all members of staff can look at data and interpret it for their part of the business. That’s just inbuilt within our organisation.

We do lunch and learn sessions where our evaluators share learning from other organisations with our employability services team, which can influence our delivery: 

  • “That’s an approach that could be beneficial for our customers.”; or
  • “This barrier is preventing [another] organisation from achieving X. I wonder if that affects our customers?”

Both sides of the business, although they’re quite different, really influence and can learn from each other.

What are your hopes or plans for the future of the partnership?

Omar: As with any organisation that we consider very capable, we’d look to partner with Renaisi again.

Jim: We would love to continue to work with Serco on other suitable partnerships. 

‘Inspiring Families’ runs until June 2022. That’s still an amazing opportunity to support people into employment and help them stay there.

Jim Cotterrell