Good work case study: County Durham

Darren Knowd from Durham County Council and Caroline High from Believe Housing explain what 'good work' means to them and what can be done to support it at a local level.


About County Durham

County Durham is a large unitary authority in the ceremonial county of DurhamNorth East England and includes Darlington, Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees. The region has a population of 533,149 and is home to 14,565 businesses. Most businesses in the region are micro or small enterprises (98 per cent) operating mainly in sectors of professional, scientific and technical services, construction, accommodation and food services, agriculture, forestry and fishing and retail.

Interview with Darren Knowd, Durham County Council, and Chair of the LGA National Advisory Group and the Social Value Taskforce

What does ‘good work’ mean to you?

The pandemic has brought a better sense of place and community and we’ve realised that we can all help each other. As an employer, we have a Better Health at Work award, and we do a lot of training, education, and awareness for managers on health including mental health. We use the national TOMS procurement framework to support social value outcomes. We are also a Durham Living Wage supporter.

What can be done to support good work at a local level?

We have an organisation called Business Durham which encourages inward investment, supporting small businesses to succeed in the area. We do a lot of supplier engagement, to make it easier to do business with local government. We focus on social value and are part of a shared procurement service, (North East Procurement Organisation), alongside our own initiative called The County Durham Pound, focused on maximising the social value of every pound spent in the County.

What are the main challenges and how can they be overcome? 

First and foremost, you need to have the support and trust of your CEO. Procurement needs to have a mandate to do things. 50 per cent of what we are is what we spend. Another challenge is capacity and resources. I am lucky, I have 27 people, other councils only have one or two people.

What is your top tip for local government?

You need to get internal stakeholders on board and lead by example. If internal stakeholders don’t understand and are not committed, or don’t have the resources, good social value commitments won’t be realised.

The pandemic has brought a better sense of place and community and we’ve realised that we can all help each other.

Darren Knowd, Head of Procurement, Durham County Council

Interview with Caroline High, Procurement Manager, Believe Housing

Believe Housing is made up of approximately 530 employees covering the East coast, centre of Durham, across to Bishop Auckland and Rookhope.

What does ‘good work’ mean to you?

At Believe Housing we focus on flexible working that supports and improves the work-life balance of our staff. One of our priorities is to understand and improve social value in our supply chain. We currently have five contracts working with the TOMS social value procurement framework and ask our suppliers how they feel we can support them to adopt the same approach. Our last contract had a 60 per cent return of the combined contact value against the proposed social value.

What can be done to support good work at a local level?

We want to support local businesses through our supply chain. We attend Meet the Buyer events so we can advise small, local businesses of opportunities. Our engagement has allowed them to better understand our procurement processes and, through mechanisms such as approved supplier lists for repairs work, we now have suppliers that would not have previously considered bidding for that work. We’re also reviewing prices every quarter, so we pay fairly and SMEs can afford to deliver their services.

What are the main challenges and how can they be overcome?

Our suppliers are willing to support the local communities, but don’t always understand their needs and priorities. We’ve worked with Durham County Council and local schools to support areas of multiple deprivation and to change perceptions of long-term unemployment, using community grant funding and our partnership with the County Durham Pound.

What is your top tip for local businesses?

Looking at procurement specifically, we need to ensure that we don’t ask our supply chain to do things that we would not expect to do ourselves. If we want our suppliers to make a difference, we need to lead by example.

If we want our suppliers to make a difference, we need to lead by example.

Caroline High, Procurement Manager, Believe Housing

About the Good Work Project

You can read more about the Good Work project – which aims to help councils support good work in the local areas – via the link below.

Good Work Project