Chris Atherton - Embracing change on the road to devolution


For our fourth interview with leading procurement professionals and Banner customers, we sat down with Chris Atherton, Procurement Manager at the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA), to find out about her background, her role at AGMA and what the future looks like for Greater Manchester and the North West on course to devolution.


Chris Atherton has built a successful career since her first procurement role at the Cooperative Group in 2006.  Gaining invaluable experience, Chris moved through a number of positions where she developed the skills and knowledge, including achieving her CIPS qualification, to progress into her current role as Procurement Manager at AGMA, the local government association for Greater Manchester, in 2014.

Since AGMA was established in 1986 there have been many changes, most notably the 2014 Devolution Agreement.  This agreement transfers certain powers and responsibilities from national government to a particular region through an elected mayor.  The region built upon this innovative agreement over the following years with a last devolution agreement agreed in the March 2016 Budget. Andy Burnham was elected as Mayor of Greater Manchester in May 2017, a significant milestone in delivering the new model for sustainable economic growth and reforming the way in which public services are delivered in Greater Manchester (GM) and the North West.

The ten authorities in GM are the first in the country to develop a statutory Combined Authority which will co-ordinate key health, economic development, regeneration and transport functions.

“My role is to work in collaboration with the ten Greater Manchester Authorities to achieve better outcomes from procurement, including savings and improved social value outcomes, as well as developing efficient ways of working with suppliers,” explains Chris.

Collaboration is the key to success

“The key to achieving success is for  authorities to collaborate wherever possible.  It’s about learning to build on existing relationships to form partnerships, in order to ultimately gain efficiencies. I don’t just mean monetary efficiencies, as there’s been so much focus on drilling down price that there’s a limit to what more can be achieved from just retendering. I think the future focus will be on working with suppliers to drive more efficiency from our processes and moving towards added value, such as social value

“For example, we recently tendered a lighting contract. The company that was awarded the contract met the social value criteria by offering mentoring support to pupils at schools  on how to write CVs and interview techniques.  So it’s all added value, it’s what suppliers can give back to society in a way that fits in with the objectives of devolution.  It’s not a monetary value, it’s over and above.”

“Collaboration is the key to success.  When considering working with different stakeholders, it’s about building a specification that meets everyone’s requirements, by working together and listening to what everybody has to say, understanding the requirements, challenging them in order to realise the benefits that can be gained from working collaboratively” explains Chris.

“An ideal example of this is the contract with Banner. All GM authorities purchase stationary from Banner, which is better than having ten separate contracts with different suppliers.  With Banner, all authorities get an overall benefit of savings by rationalising products and just having one cost centre to manage.”

Delivering a solution for devolution in Greater Manchester and the North West

The procurement team at AGMA adopt a programme management approach (see figure 1 below), which is a structured process used to define, plan, implement, control and transition a contract from a current to a future state. “To identify opportunities we use our own spend analysis tool, called SpendPro. We then follow the management approach, which involves meeting with AGMA members to analyse spend, looking at the different contracts in place and identifying whether there is an opportunity to collaborate.”

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At present Local Authorities in the North West spend between £6bn and £6.5bn each year on goods and services, which represents the importance of a structured procurement process.  Underpinning this process is The Chest.  The Chest is the North West’s Local Authority Procurement Portal and is contract managed by Chris. The e-procurement portal brings together buyers and suppliers to make it easier for businesses to find out about new sources of potential revenue.

Through a clear and strategic approach to procurement AGMA is focused on working with the ten local authorities and other local services to improve the city-region so that by 2020, the Manchester city region will have pioneered a new model for sustainable economic growth based around a more connected, talented and greener city region where prosperity secured is enjoyed by the many and not the few.

Working with Banner

“As with every supplier, Banner went through a full evaluation process before being awarded the office supplies contract.  The award was based on a number of factors, which included quality of products, basket of goods and management of the contract.  I work closely with the Banner Account Managers, Ian Dixon and Michael Kehoe, on a regular basis to make sure the customers’ needs are met.”

“One of the benefits of the Banner contract is that all ten GM authorities, regardless of size, benefit from the same pricing. The contract was awarded to Banner six years ago and was reviewed recently in November 2016.  In line with the objective of working with suppliers to add value, the first thing the Account Managers did was look at the usage, so we created one price file and standardised everything across the board to ensure we got the best value from the products” explains Chris.

In Summary

There is no doubt that change is happening for GM authorities; the last devolution agreement gave Greater Manchester control of long-term health and social care spending, with full devolution of a budget of around £6 billion in 2016/17.  Chris and the procurement team at AGMA are embracing the challenge of meeting the needs and aspirations of people who live and work in the area and making GM one of the most successful city regions in the world.

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