Crown Commercial Service has helped the public sector in its agile response to the coronavirus. Chief Executive Simon Tse shares the lessons from the past year

This article was first published in Civil Service World

Back in July 2020, a few months into the pandemic, Crown Commercial Service published our accounts for 2019/20.

Looking back on what had been a successful year from that vantage point was a surreal experience. The UK had gone into lockdown around the end of the financial year, and by July 2020 the government was considering how we might begin to unlock parts of the economy to return some kind of normality.

Another 12 months on, and we’re having a familiar conversation, as CCS has played a key role in responding to the ongoing requirements around the pandemic.

Overall, the organisation continues to record strong spend growth, allowing us to help even more customers across the public sector and deliver over £2 billion in commercial benefits. £22.7 billion was channelled through CCS commercial agreements in 2020/21, an increase of £4.6 billion from the year before.

The sheer scale of activities that we have been involved in has been exceptional. Early in the year, our focus was on supporting the initial crisis response across central government and with our customers in the wider public sector. 

We helped to repatriate British nationals on flight charters from more than 50 countries. Millions of meals were delivered to schoolchildren through our free school meals voucher scheme, and more than a million disadvantaged children received devices to assist with their home schooling.

At a crucial moment in the UK’s response, 14,000 staff were deployed to the vaccination programme, and 1,000 to laboratories – thanks to CCS agreements. And 500 mobile testing units have been designed and delivered to provide Covid-19 symptomatic tests estimated to have saved 6,000 lives. 

We have played a major role supporting NHS Test and Trace to buy what it needed – working across all our teams and categories, from logistics and vehicles, to contact centres and contingent labour, as well as providing project management office support and other resources. 

All this has been done amid the disruption to all of our lives caused by remote working, home schooling and living day-to-day through a pandemic, and I couldn’t be more proud of how our colleagues have responded. Probably the most satisfying achievement for me in the last year is that nine out of ten of our staff have told us they feel positively about how the organisation has responded to their wellbeing needs, during a time when many have had worked long hours and on difficult projects to support the public sector response. 

While the recovery continues it’s very likely that a significant amount of our work this year will be impacted by the fallout from the pandemic. 

We must look to grasp the opportunities of the Covid-19 recovery and do even more to support our customers across the public sector to build back better, greener and fairer.

One example of this is the work we are doing with customers right now to understand their biggest carbon net zero challenges and to help them on their decarbonisation journey. We are uniquely placed to use our commercial expertise to help our customers across a wide range of commercial areas, from fleet to energy, technology and construction, ensuring that they are able to build back greener.

We’re also hearing time and again that social value is a priority, and with 18,000 customers across the UK, the opportunity to generate social value through public procurement is clear.

Our offer has to be tailored to customers’ needs across dozens of goods and services. For instance, we can ask suppliers bidding to join our agreements to demonstrate how they work to ensure fair, inclusive and ethical employment practices. Suppliers on our furniture agreement are asked to support the Greening Government Commitment to ensure that all packaging of products is reusable or readily recyclable.

And our fleet category are backing Highways England’s Driving for Better Business campaign to boost driver safety standards for public sector suppliers, requiring suppliers on our agreements to sign up to the scheme

As I reflect on the last 12 months and look forward to the year ahead, the common theme for me is agility. 

The pressure exerted on the public sector as a whole has enabled us to demonstrate to our customers, and also to ourselves, how we can be agile – adapting, innovating and responding to uncertainty. I am committed to ensuring that we retain the best of this agility to respond to the next set of challenges and truly support our public sector to build back better.

Simon Tse, CEO of Crown Commercial Service

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