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Name: Lesley Harper

Position: Category Manager (Social Care)

How long have you been working for YPO?

 I started working for YPO in May 2018, so I’m still new to the organisation, but loving every minute of it so far.

What do you most like about YPO?

 I love that YPO is 100% public sector owned yet has a great commercial feel about it.  Being owned by 13 local authorities means that we put money back into councils and schools, so I feel like I’m doing my bit to help.  It’s also been eye-opening to work on a national scale and being able to support the health and social care agenda across the country; not just in a local area (which is what I’ve been used to).

Main responsibilities:

 YPO has recently invested in health and social care, so I’m now one of three Category Managers covering this area of work.   Whilst we already have some established frameworks that I manage, my main role moment is finding out what our customers need and learning about the health and social care market.

Ultimately, I’m responsible for ensuring that health and social care commissioners have a range of products and services available to them to help them achieve their goals.  As we know, the funding for health and social care is limited, so commissioners are facing increasing pressure to achieve value for money as well as outcomes for service users.  My role is to help them to achieve this by working with providers nationally to identify new and exciting products and services and making these available to commissioners and reducing the burden on their own procurement teams.

Most challenging part of your role:

 The most challenging part of my role so far has been contacting health and social care commissioners.  As an experienced commissioner myself, I’m all too familiar with the lack of integration between ‘commissioning’ and ‘procurement’ and the tension that often exists between the two.  YPO has some great relationships with colleagues in procurement teams across the country, but I know that in health and social care, it’s the commissioning teams that have their ear to the ground and are at the forefront of the action; it is ultimately these teams that I want to reach and to support.

In the next few months, I’m aiming to meet as many commissioners as I can to find out what kind of issues they are facing around health and social care commissioning and to see what YPO can support them with.

Describe role in three words:

Thought-provoking, exciting, innovative   

How did you get involved in procurement?

 After working in a young people’s substance misuse service for 10 years as an administrator, I knew that I could make a bigger difference to young people by commissioning services, rather than working within them.  So, in 2007 I found myself applying for a temporary commissioning role with Barnsley Council.  Two years later, I moved to Wakefield Council to commission Extended Services in schools and Children’s Centres, which quickly expanded to include a whole range of children’s service, including independent foster care and residential services, services for disabled children and their families, and health visiting and school nursing, amongst others.  During my time at Wakefield, I spent nearly two years in adult services, commissioning older people’s day care, a women’s mental health service, reviewing the Supporting People services and commissioning the Local HealthWatch.

For the last four years, I was the Team Manager for the children’s commissioning and children’s workforce development teams; so, I’ve got a good understanding of the issues facing health and social care commissioners and the children’s workforce more broadly.  I’ve developed and implemented new supervision and appraisal forms and policies, written programmes to support newly qualified social workers and developed plans for meeting the learning and development needs of in-house foster carers.  I’ve also commissioned a range of services from scratch, undertaken numerous public consultations, as well review and, where needed, de-commission services that were no longer needed.

Despite all that, there were still so many things that I wanted to be able to do as a commissioner that I knew would help to deliver even better services to children and families, and that would achieve better value for money; but I just couldn’t find the time on top of the day job.  So, I started to explore other roles that would enable me to have a bigger impact on commissioning, which is when I found procurement and the role of Category Manager.

Whilst the title of Category Manager is very procurement-based and probably a bit off-putting to some; ultimately it gives me the ability to research, explore and learn about the needs of the operational teams and commissioners within health and social care, to meet providers who are already providing service, or who have new products and services to offer, and hopefully bringing the two together.

What do you like to do in spare time?

 I’m currently studying for a procurement qualification, so that is taking up quite a bit of my time but is really interesting (honest!).  When I’m not revising, I like to get out on my bike – I do a lot of volunteering for a local cycle club – I can often be found doing the registration for cycling events, marshalling and even designing websites for the club.  I love travelling and I have my sights set on Japan which I’ll hopefully get to next year.  When I’m not doing any of that, I can usually be found at a gin festival.

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Lesley Harper

Category Manager for Social Care, Data & Special Projects
YPO