Public Services > Central Government

CCS presses ahead with a standard service to departments

David Bicknell Published 15 August 2017

Activity as part of managed service provided to seven departments, including DWP, Home Office and MoD now transferred back to departments after CCS’ change of operating model


The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has said it is continuing to implement a ‘standard service’ for Whitehall departments as it moves away from providing a managed service for government customers.

Previously, seven government departments were provided with a ‘managed service’ by CCS. The departments were the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Home Office, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the Department for Transport (DfT), the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury.

Now, some of the activity that previously took place as part of the CCS managed service has been transferred back to the departments after CCS changed its operating model and established the standard service. This process has been undertaken in consultation with the departments, CCS said.

A CCS spokesperson said, "We established a new standard service for all our customers, following a review of our operating model last year. Our standard service allows us to leverage our commercial and procurement expertise to deliver the best value deals. It also means that we can provide a higher quality, more consistent and efficient service across the board."

CCS now derives its income from a levy placed on suppliers through its procurement frameworks rather than fees on departments. It regards this is a more efficient and transparent way of generating income and ensures we are incentivised to provide better value deals to customers.

The move towards providing a standard service is a notable departure from a plan first outlined in February 2014 for CCS to deliver a “complete commercial service for government departments”, providing top industry expertise and fully-managed procurement services.

The intention, first conceived when CCS was under different leadership, was that CCS was going to be moving away from simply managing frameworks and moving towards offering a fully managed end to end service.

The intention was then that with both a delivery and an advisory capability, CCS would work with departments and wider public sector organisations to help them achieve maximum value for the taxpayer from every commercial relationship.

In its 2016/17 business plan, CCS indicated it was changing its funding model and was beginning to phase-out the system of charging government departments a managed service fee, and instead use supplier levy income to fund its operating costs. It is understood this was as a result of pressure from The Treasury.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report on CCS published earlier this year outlined that seven departments indeed had their spend directly managed by CCS, while noting that the seven departments was ten fewer than originally forecast.

Recent evidence from CCS’ annual report seems to explain the reason for any move away from providing a managed service. According to a segmental analysis, CCS’ total income in 2016/17 from managed services was £7.83m, but its operating costs were £21m. In contrast, CCS gained £56m in income from frameworks. Its total surplus from frameworks was £18.3m, but it had a deficit on managed services of nearly £14.8m.

One of the recommendations in the NAO report was that the Cabinet Office should review the accountability and governance arrangements of CCS and which functions properly belong in the CCS trading fund. The NAO said, “We believe that CCS should focus on the buying of common goods and services and the review should seriously consider the best organisation to host the commercial capability, management of strategic relations and policy teams.”

It is understood that many commercial policy functions that CCS took on after morphing from the Government Procurement Service (GPS) have now returned to the main part of the Cabinet Office. These include working with departments on commercial strategy, and the Crown Representatives team.

CCS has never been far from speculation about its future throughout its history and previous guises (OGC, Buying Solutions, and then, GPS). Its positioning, caught between Cabinet Office commercial policy and Treasury fiscal policy, does not help.

Government Computing recently learned of an unsubstantiated rumour involving the future of CCS that emerged just after the General Election. One procurement specialist had heard a suggestion that had the Conservative Party won the General Election with a substantial majority, there was said to be a potential plan for CCS to be disbanded and its staff spread between departments. The plan, has, however, never been confirmed, and CCS said it would not comment on speculation.

One of the obvious problems with such a plan is who would then have central control of government procurement frameworks, the service currently fulfilled by CCS? And could individual departments realistically have taken control of a framework or a series of frameworks?

Although CCS appears to be regularly struggling to meet its deadlines – for example, the announcement of the award results of Phase 1 Management Consultancy framework looks like it will be delayed until sometime this month from the expected July 21 date - procurement insiders still have high hopes for a team led by Amabel Grant, the programme director for the Crown Marketplace.

Suppliers were recently invited by CCS to provide input to the ‘Crown Marketplace’ initiative, which is tasked with building a single, easy-to-use, online marketplace that will accommodate all CCS frameworks. 

Many in the government procurement world say they applaud the ambition of the programme, to “create a step change in public procurement driving value for the UK taxpayer” but admit it faces significant challenges. It needs to align all CCS’s frameworks and contracts, and avoid the pitfall of ‘dumbing down’ the procurement process to save time and money, which is likely to only end up costing far more in poor outcomes.

One procurement specialist said, “Amabel’s team are starting to make a difference, but it’s very early days.”

Meanwhile, CCS has said it is planning to bring in a new framework to replace Corporate Software Solutions (RM1042) and Local Authority Software Applications (RM1059) This is currently called Enterprise Software Solutions, and it is likely to be a single framework replacing the existing two. 

Public sector procurement specialists remain wary of any idea to create an innovative new framework and have urged CCS to think ‘tried and tested’ rather than ‘innovative.’ They argue that Corporate Software Solutions and Local Authority Software Applications are two different kinds of frameworks, one ‘horizontal’ and the other ‘vertical’ and combining them is likely to be a challenge.

CCS appears not to have completely made up its mind, and in the meantime has extended Corporate Software Solutions to October 5 2018, and extended Local Authority Software Applications to August 3 2018.

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