Keeping our schools clean

The debate about unhygienic schools has focused on penny-pinching cleaning of school toilets, which is making students unhappy. How did this happen? And what can we do about it?

Expert comment

Sten Mortensen, one of Coor’s many cleaning experts, has extensive experience as a purchaser, and of writing and calculating tenders. In his experience, there are a number of common mistakes when purchasing cleaning services. However, these can easily be avoided. Here, he explains how.

What makes a good cleaning purchaser

The most common mistake is when purchasers underestimate the complexity of the service delivery and has an incomplete understanding of what’s required. This produces unsatisfactory supporting documentation, which means what suppliers are offering isn’t accurate or comparable. It’s important to give the process time; most purchasers underestimate the time it takes to prepare good supporting documentation. Purchasers are often pressed for time and end up submitting incomplete supporting documentation. The problem then is that you get what you’ve asked for, so purchasers also need to have the right competence or enough insight to realize that it’s lacking. Of course, not everyone can be an expert at cleaning or optimizing the tendering process, but it’s possible to hire competence and get help.

The most common mistake is when purchasers underestimate the complexity of the service delivery and has an incomplete understanding of what’s required.

Sten Mortensen, Cleaning expert, Coor Service Management

Awareness of key figures such as gross area, net area and cleaning area is another key factor. Very few businesses have up-to-date information on this kind of data or an understanding of the differences between such key indicators. Gross area is the entire area between the external walls, while net area is the space that remains after partition walls, elevator shafts, storage space and other areas that don’t need cleaning have been excluded. The cleaning area is the area that needs to be cleaned, and can differ markedly from gross area. If a company only provides gross area in its supporting documentation, suppliers are forced to make assumptions about the area that requires cleaning. This results in tenders that vary and aren’t comparable.

Good cleaning service purchasers need to:

  • Leave enough time to compile accurate supporting documentation.
  • Make sure that enough service-specific competence is available. If not, it must be outsourced.
  • Attach a complete list and architect’s drawings of all premises, including the actual cleaning area. This should state the type of area for all premises that require cleaning, i.e. toilets, offices etc., including square meters of area to be covered.

Choosing the right supplier/what you can expect from a supplier

First, it’s necessary to exclude un-accredited service providers. Then, you shouldn’t go straight to comparing prices. There are other parameters that are at least as important for good service delivery. Evaluate the tender according to the following model:

  1. Does the supplier have the right kind of competence and sufficient staff to ensure the service delivery? Check that the tender clearly states how the work will be managed, who’s responsible for what and who is in control of service delivery.
  2. It’s important that the supplier provides training to cleaners. Exclude suppliers that don’t have a clear plan.
  3. Sustainability and environmental factors shouldn’t be confined to a single point in the tender and should be incorporated throughout the documentation. Ensure that the supplier has the right kind of competence and continuously and proactively addresses these issues and how this affects long-term service delivery.
  4. Finally, evaluate pricing. If a supplier indicates an hourly rate for cleaners below the collective pay agreement for cleaners plus expenses, it won’t be sustainable and ought to be queried.

It’s also important to interpret what the supplier is saying in the tender. It’s necessary to be able to compare hourly rates, rates of completion etc.

How do you follow up on work and improve it?

Quality follow-ups on frequency-based delivery, as in an office corridor that’s cleaned once a week, can be quite subjective. Attendance checklists are commonly used to confirm that the supplier has been, but the cleaning itself also needs to be evaluated. Serious suppliers will make their own spot-checks, but naturally the purchaser also needs to monitor quality. When evaluating function-based deliveries, i.e. when a space is cleaned as and when necessary, the quality assessment is linked to delivery rather than frequency. Then it’s particularly important to understand what’s been ordered and to ensure levels of provision have been agreed. The Nordic cleaning standard INSTA 800, which specifies the quality level for individual premises, is often used. Function-driven delivery is a good way to allocate resources and frequently means more economical delivery for the customer. That for this to work, you need knowledge of quality standards, something that’s often lacking in customers and consultants.

When working on ongoing improvements, it’s important for suppliers and purchasers to meet regularly in a spirit of collaboration and dialogue. The focus shouldn’t be on quantifying improvements, but rather on working towards spotlighting genuine and quality-enhancing improvements. In my experience, sustainable and effective progress is attained through close collaboration between supplier and purchaser through continuous, constructive dialogue.