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How to redistribute surplus assets when decommissioning a school building

Are you decommissioning a school building and thinking "how do i clear a school?" of surplus assets? Or "How do I redistribute surplus assets?" 


Edinburgh City Council achieved cost avoidance of £300K redistributing the surplus assets from just one school using Warp It. When we found out about this amazing feat we had to find out how they did it. We spoke to the project lead, Mollie Kerr.

The highlights of the project is as follows

  • Strong leadership from the procurement department
  • Collaboration with different Service Areas
  • Purchasing controlled by procurement department
  • The reuse of surplus assets is prioritized over recycling- (A no brainer right? You would think so but most building clearences pass their surplus for recycling- this is bad- the value in a chair is providing the function of sitting! Not scrap value for metal. )

Mollie Kerr is the Senior Commercial Innovation and Engagement Officer at City of Edinburgh Council. Mollie commissioned our services in Spring 2016 and since then has used the system to help to manage the clearance of assets at Portobello High School in Edinburgh, and is now preparing the same for Boroughmuir High School.




Mollie and her team catalogued all of the assets of one school well in advance of the clearance date. Those assets were then available on our online portal for other schools to claim in the period running up to the clearance date. On the clearance date the majority of assets had been claimed by schools. The rest were taken by charity.


The project resulted in cost avoidance of over £300,000.


How good is that? Let's find out how they did it!



What follows is an interview with Mollie:


Why is someone in procurement interested in making sure unwanted assets are reused in the most efficient way to extend their life cycle?

Working in procurement, we consider the social, environmental and economic impact of any projects over £50k, and try to account for the full life cycle of every project. Also I just do not like seeing any waste, and the focus was to reuse assets around the council or with not for profit partners in the city. We are being asked to make year-on-year savings, and it is unacceptable to scrap reusable assets when they could extend their life cycle elsewhere in the council. In the past we might have handed assets to contractors to recycle or dispose of, but not anymore.


We had a presentation from Daniel and then canvassed various colleagues from property planning, sustainability team and Waste Services. All three teams agreed this was a great opportunity to change how we reuse, recycle and dispose of unwanted assets.


Our Property Planning department had enquired as to how they could dispose of old assets that the school no longer required. These items were still usable with life still in them. Prior to introducing Warp It we were working from spreadsheets to redistribute assets, however we were keen to improve this process by creating a more robust audit trail.


Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

We were tasked with implementation of this system across the council. Essentially, at the moment, it's seen as an alternative disposal option over recycling or landfill. The cost avoidance for services has been for the big school moves, one concluded and one in the planning. However, we are now being contacted, via word of mouth, by other service areas. So now we know what items are surplus and staff in schools can claim the items through the system. A full launch is planned for the next few weeks with road shows in main buildings and communications out on the Council Orb (internal newsletter).


What would you say to other organisations that are carrying out building clearances where those assets are just leaking out to contractors for scrapping? Who should they speak to, how are they going to fix it and what sort of internal governance is involved?

Well, we had a clear idea of what we did not want to happen. That was passing our valuable assets to a contractor where they actually get the value from second hand sales or scrap. We wanted to reuse as much as possible. We put a written proposal together to finance asking them for the funds to get this up and running. We used our initial clearance of a school as our trial, which was received very well by planning. We approached the school business managers, for both primary and secondary schools. We demonstrated to them how it would be used for claiming and reusing assets across the schools and across the council. This idea was very well received by all. Previously there was a bit of sharing of spreadsheets, and word documents, whenever they had something they wanted rid of. It was quite manual, with a lack of audit trail.


So you used to do a bit of distribution via spreadsheets, and then the contractor would charge you a pretty penny for them to dispose of anything left over?

Yes, accommodation planning or business manager for the building would put a spreadsheet out with all the items on it; furniture, equipment etc. They’d send it to some business managers around the council and see if anybody wanted anything. If anything was claimed, they would arrange between them how it was going to be delivered. Often the contractor doing the migration on larger projects would do the deliveries and charge interesting values for this service.


How did you progress from spreadsheet sharing to an online platform?

Any time the accommodation planning team decommissioned a building, they used a spreadsheet. But only on big projects that happened, it was never on anything else, nothing smaller. This new way was much better, as all the staff could access the information online and see the items on a marketplace. This saved time and reduced our manual input by emails and visits. School business managers were on board. All available items were part of the initial inventory of the school this allowed us to advertise all items with photos and description to the whole school network. We arranged for a company to do all the deliveries as part of the school decommissioning.


We worked with some of the school staff to understand which schools were more in need of new tech for example if they had broken kit, and it needed replacing. We had three charities take items too.


What about resource requirements?

We involved property planning and our procurement apprentices as a learning experience for them. They got involved and we treated this as a process redesign and improvement project. We completely redesigned how the council tackles decommissioning and moving buildings now. The two apprenticeships catalogued the assets, added them to Warp It, supported staff joining and claiming items. Once they understood how it worked it was fairly easy. They team also supported accommodation planning during the week of the school move and ensured the charities got the correct items and removed them appropriately.


What’s the new and improved process?

We know in advance what is going to be redistributed around the council assets. As well as that, there were also planned collection windows where charities could arrange the pickup of items they claimed. The items being redistributed were delivered as part of the migration project by the contractor. We have a lot more control now, and at only 50% of the previous cost.


How have you managed to get this cost down so low?

We have reduced contractor costs by agreeing roles and costs at the outset. We also had a small council team on site to manage the workflow of the contractor and charities collecting items. This included a shipping container being delivered and loaded prior to removal and onward travel to North Ghana underprivileged schools,

And of course we no longer scrap the assets and they are redistributed which cuts waste costs and procurement costs.


What have been your biggest challenges, and how did you overcome them?

We learned a lot on this first project and that has shaped how we will proceed with our next large high school. One of the biggest challenges was getting the removals contractor to do what we planned for them to do in the first place. A member of our team intervened, took control and ensured the project reached a satisfactory conclusion.


In the next project we are using local utility technicians to disconnect electric and gas appliances, local delivery options are being explored such as third sector and criminal justice service who have partnered us on other deliveries.


Do you have any advice for the organisations tackling decommissioning that you wish you’d known six months ago?

Consider each element yourself. Do you need a national removals or accommodation planning contractor? Double and triple check the price that you're being offered, does it seem reasonable? Don't just do a comparison with the quotes you have. Never let anyone deal with the waste skips. Arrange it yourself and control the costs, make the skip company your best friend and help police what is in the skips and when they get collected for emptying. A company tried to charge some interesting costs for additional skips when the rack rate was 40% less to members of the public. Clearly we came to an arrangement. Again the original quotes included waste costs which on reflection were not worth the money in real terms, but were the cheapest provider of the full service.


Do you have any advice for the distribution part, where you're finding new homes for things?

The software will take care of who gets what. But you need to customise the messages to make sure the 3rd parties know exactly what they need to do to collect the items. You need to organize it well enough in advance. Try to schedule deliveries yourself, in collaboration with your delivery company, but take control. If you don't, they will leave it to the last minute. We had one contractor who were trying to arrange delivery for a school already on holiday.


You mentioned that you had a spreadsheet methodology last year, and then now you've adopted Warp It this year, so how does dealing with Warp It make your life easier?

We don’t have to deal with it. We just add the items and it records everything. Rather than load information on a spreadsheet, we load it on the system and it takes care of itself. As long as you do the work up front to get everybody registered on Warp It before you start, the transfer of items will happen.


Great to hear that we’ve been able to help! Thanks for your time Mollie.

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Daniel O'Connor

Daniel O'Connor

I use my time and experience to contribute to the transition to a regenerative sustainable society for all.


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