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Unlocking the door for customers and suppliers

Source: PSE: Aug/Sep 19

Simon Tse, chief executive of the Crown Commercial Service, discusses how the biggest public procurement organisation in the UK is changing.

For some time the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), the trading fund of the Cabinet Office, rightly focused its attention on best value and ensuring agreements were compliant. But now we’re aiming to be so much more than that. Our customers and suppliers are demanding more, they require our expertise to be applied in other ways. 

We want to maintain our position as leaders in the field of public sector procurement of common goods and services, and so we’re considering their feedback ever more closely and reassessing our agreements so they better match our customers’ needs. We’re not only aiming to alter the way we do procurement, but perhaps also the way others view procurement. 

That’s because procurement is changing - and we want to be the agent of that change. Digitisation, simpler contracts and features beyond price - such as social value - make this a dynamic and exciting time to be operating in the sector and we’re meeting the challenge head on. 

CCS has come a long way already in clarifying our service offer and improving our customer service standards. We have a real opportunity here to transform the way the whole of the public sector buys common goods and services to the benefit of everyone. We’ve made great progress over the last year, growing the spend through our agreements and helping our customers to achieve significant commercial benefits. So, yes, we’re in a good place but it is still early days and there’s much more we can do. 

Customers tell us they really value relationships built on great service, transparency, pace of delivery and above all honesty. And we’re always reviewing how we can become easier to work with for both suppliers and customers. On the customer side, it is all about putting in place the right products and making sure they are easy to access, simple to use and of course value for money. On the supplier side we are looking carefully at how we can simplify our processes as far as possible. We’re also making sure we put in place the types of commercial agreement which suit the markets we operate in and ensure a diverse range of suppliers are accessible to our customers. For example, we’re expanding the number of dynamic purchasing systems in areas where it makes sense to have greater flexibility because of market conditions. 

We’ve done a lot of great work in all our categories - across Technology, People, Buildings and our Corporate pillars - as evidenced by the increasing spend going through our agreements. Our successes have come through understanding our customers and the context in which they operate - putting in place the commercial arrangements which meet their needs. For example, our work with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation has been essential to establishing the right kind of facilities management agreements. Similarly, our work with departments and Crown Hosting Data Centres has been crucial in helping government departments undertake their system disaggregations as effectively as possible. 

If CCS is to build on these successes it cannot do so without understanding and supporting the supply chain. We must operate with a deep knowledge of what suppliers, large and small, can offer no matter where in the UK they operate, so we are removing barriers and making government more accessible to business. Our category expertise is absolutely central to that approach and the more we understand suppliers, their challenges and the opportunities they’re looking for, the better. To get to that point, we must encourage suppliers and potential suppliers to engage with us and our customers early and often - regular communication is essential. 

In return, CCS will help shape the supply chain in a way that better serves supplier innovation and our customers, by way of creating long-term value and sustainability.

In 2018/19, £15.7bn of public sector spend went through CCS agreements. Operating on this scale gives us leverage we can apply in ways which benefit us all, not least by supporting small businesses - including those further down the supply chain - driving sustainability and helping deliver social value. One of the ways we’re doing this is by ensuring prompt payment - we have recently written to over 30,000 suppliers to remind them of the government’s policy on this. 

Opportunities exist for suppliers which stand out from the crowd and go beyond price. The evidence from all our categories is that suppliers which do their research, understand tenders, bring examples of what they can do, collaborate across their industry and innovate, are those which elevate themselves. 

Our customers aren’t looking for ‘model answers’ to their tender documents - they need suppliers to describe what will really be delivered when they go live and set out what makes them the right supplier for the task. 

Those suppliers willing to embrace social value elements such as creating apprenticeships for young people, reducing carbon emissions and assuring supply chains free from modern slavery, will find more and better opportunities with government and the wider public sector. 

That’s because our agreements are now designed to give customers the flexibility they need to decide their own, specific social value benefits, in keeping with their organisation's objectives. 

Over the next few months, we’ll provide supplier opportunities in a range of sectors including energy, construction, workplace services, workforce, people services, travel, technology network services, and also through our research marketplace. 

But once a supplier is awarded a place on an agreement, that’s only the start of their journey. CCS can open the door, but it is only by bidding for contracts and meeting the challenges of potential customers, that the opportunities we create will lead to supplier success.




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