ONE of the region’s biggest social enterprises says the growing demand for contractors with a “social purpose” will help its newly-formed commercial arm to win private sector contracts and create jobs.
The First Ark Group, which owns Knowsley Housing Trust (KHT), launched Vivark to bid for contracts with private sector firms as well as public sector bodies.
First Ark’s executive director of commercial services, Tony Cahill, says standalone business Vivark will be able to bid for commercial work in a way that would be impossible for a highly-regulated social housing provider such as KHT itself.
Vivark is now looking to win business across the North West with landlords and property owners, as well as in the health and education sectors.
Mr Cahill believes Vivark’s “social purpose” will help it win contracts from organisations and authorities who want to prove their corporate and social responsibility (CSR) credentials.
He said: “We have to meet expectations on price point and we have to show we have the ability to provide a quality service meeting the customers’ needs. That’s a given.
“What we have in addition is the social value that we add to the opportunities we create when we provide our services. That’s a real plus point for the people we’re looking to work with.
“The customers we work with will benefit from the fact that we will create employment in areas they serve. That’s the key differentiation we have – 100% of our profits are re-invested on that principle.
“When you look at the public sector, the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 requires all procurement of public services in future to consider social value. All public service providers have to take that into account.”
The First Ark Group is made up of four parts – the parent company, Vivark, KHT and developer KHT Services.
Mr Cahill said: “We were the first in the UK to go to this structure, with a non-regulated group parent overseeing a regulated social housing provider. That gives us the freedom to operate outside the housing sector without needing regulation from the HCA.”
“First Ark was set up two years ago to lead the move into more commercial business.
“The funding system for social housing is changing. It will be impacted considerably by welfare reform, and further changes due to the economic situation.
“Vivark as a commercial entity will allow us to overcome these difficult times and allow us to continue our path to create resilient communities where we work.
Vivark was spun out from the facilities maintenance and refurbishment team that had operated for the last 10 years under the KHT banner.
Vivark was launched as a legal entity in October. Some 200 staff were transferred from KHT to the new company and are now delivering maintenance services and refurbishment of properties for KHT and for other non-housing customers.
Mr Cahill said: “The idea of launching Vivark is about expanding our sales wider into the private sector, as well as further public sector opportunities.
“By creating Vivark, it’s a non-regulated entity alongside KHT. We can operate outside the housing market more easily. And it takes the risk from KHT.
“The purpose of Vivark is growing turnover, creating employment, and using the profits that we generate to create further employment opportunities, training and apprenticeships.
“We look to create those employment opportunities in the areas where we deliver those services.
“Vivark operates as a commercial entity but is essentially a social enterprise.”
Garston native Mr Cahill spent the first 18 years of his career in the fire and security sector, working for industry giants including Chubb and ADT.
He then joined Romec, the joint venture company formed by the Royal Mail and Balfour Beatty, where he became national operations director leading the £150m-a-year contract to maintain the Royal Mail’s UK estate.
and before joining First Ark this year, he spent five years leading the Warrington business of fit-out specialist Morris & Spottiswood.
He is now bringing that commercial experience to Vivark.
“We’re looking at the commercial marketplace,” he said. “That could be offices, industrial parks or retail parks. We’re targeting the likes of property management organisations who have a wide range of properties we can support them with.
“We are also targeting education and healthcare. Some of my team have links to those sectors from previous experience, and we can use those links to access those markets.
“We’re also looking to enter those markets by working in partnership with other contractors and supply chain partners.
“The majority of our work has been delivered by in-house teams. But we will work with other partners in future to make sure we have the full range of skills needed to meet our customers’ needs.” Despite the gloomy economic climate, Mr Cahill is convinced the company is set for steady growth – and that, he says, will create jobs in the North West.
“We are looking at 10% organic growth year on year for the next five years,” he said. “There could be other opportunities as well.
“That will grow our turnover, it will grow the profitability of the Vivark business, and it will create a range of new jobs. We expect it will probably create 10 new permanent jobs for every £1m in growth.
“We’re kicking that off as we speak. We’re setting up a grounds maintenance service. We’ve recruited somebody to head it up, and are looking for 10 members of maintenance staff.
“We’re looking to deliver a fencing contract for Knowsley Housing Trust over the next five years – we’ll be installing 40 miles of fencing.”