Crown Commercial Service's CEO Simon Tse gave the keynote speech at Procurex National at the end of April, touching on CCS's objectives, our latest agreements, and what the future holds
It’s a real pleasure and privilege to be here with you at Procurex. This event continues to be one of the great showcases for the innovations now driving the transformation of our public services. But it is also a wonderful opportunity for discovery – a chance for those who buy and supply for the public sector to share their knowledge and experience.
Procurex consistently provides tremendous networking and collaboration opportunities for all of us as we work to support the positive transformation of fellow citizens’ lives. I really do hope this event and the people you meet here help energise you in your work.
At CCS, we help over 17,000 customers to buy the goods and services they need to deliver front line services for citizens, and the range of that work is vast; from laptops to locum doctors, research services to laundry.
We have three goals at CCS.
The first is to maximise commercial benefits – our customers need to know they are getting the best value possible from assured suppliers, both large and small, wherever they operate.
Secondly, we strive to focus on the customer. The relationships our people build dictate everything else we do and the ways in which we do it. We are working to earn and build trust with all of our customers whether they are in central government or the wider public sector. We are working, through our knowledge, experience and understanding, to make CCS easier to work with.
Lastly, all of this effort should strengthen the UK economy through the delivery of policy. For example, the government has challenged the public sector to drive one third of its procurement spend into small businesses by 2022. So we’re ensuring, through innovative lotting structures, that SMEs are not disadvantaged on our agreements.
If we achieve those goals we will significantly increase spend through our commercial agreements.
We will do this through a team of experienced and talented individuals committed to giving customers the help they need. We’ll make procurement simple, whilst getting the best deal on quality and price for the UK tax payer.
But aligned to that, our customers have told us that pace, consistency, ease of use and engagement are what they need to see from us. They know we can deliver the compliance and the savings – but they also need reliability, simplicity and an understanding of where they require something more. And so we have started a transformation journey to ensure we live up to these expectations and create an added value for customers – a value that is not necessarily measured in pounds and pence.
The financial savings are important. They always will be. But the real value in what we do is freeing up scarce resources so there can be a positive impact elsewhere in the system.
What do I mean by that? Well, let me give you an example: it’s important to me that Crown Commercial Service saved £1,200 on electronic tablets for a customer, but it means so much more when I know the customer was a primary school able to reinvest that saving in its pupils’ education.
And we can scale that up: three NHS trusts made £9 million a year savings on their locum doctor bill through one of our agreements. It’s extremely powerful to imagine how resource redistribution on that scale might positively change patients’ lives.
What we’re doing every single day is operating beyond price. We’re looking again at how we operate and what makes us distinct from other providers.
CCS hasn’t always got this right. Perhaps in the past we’ve relied on our scale and gold standard compliance to do the heavy lifting for us. Maybe we’ve also been a little arrogant. I’ll leave that for others to judge. But I will tell you that we can’t operate like that any more and we won’t do so.
Our customers value relationships built on great service, transparency, pace of delivery and above all honesty. So we’re changing the way we do procurement and, perhaps, the way others view procurement.
On the face of it, this business is about saving money. Pure and simple.
But it’s not that simple is it? We’re really so much more than that. We must be very clear about what it is that we are encouraging – this is not a race to the bottom where the lowest bid wins out. It is our role to facilitate the raising of standards across the public sector through efficiency and innovation. That’s what CCS should be doing. That’s where CCS should be leading.
We are doing so. From September, we will implement a policy requiring larger suppliers to answer questions about their supply chain management, tracking systems and payment practices – including the percentage of invoices paid within 60 days. Those unable to demonstrate a fair and responsible approach may be excluded from bidding.
When we engage with the markets we operate in, we should shape them with those principles in mind. We should encourage our customers to accept challenge about the way they currently do business – that’s how innovation happens, that’s how citizens experience improvements in their services.
Similarly, suppliers working with central government and the wider public sector should be encouraged to balance risk with reward – they should know that our customers are looking to them to provide solutions that deliver value for money but within the context of a forward leaning environment. They also need to understand that we place great value on social issues too, such as the living wage, as well as the bottom line.
So, practically speaking, where do we add value? Well, one way we’re evolving our role is through social value. We’re ensuring our customers can use our agreements to deliver the benefits they are looking for – from creating more apprenticeships for young people to reducing carbon emissions, from promoting equality and diversity to assuring supply chains are free from the tragedy of modern slavery.
Our agreements are now designed to give customers the flexibility they need to decide their own, specific social value benefits, in keeping with their own social value objectives.
The most popular 20 frameworks that CCS offers to its customers have already been assessed and are ready to help customers secure social benefits now. This includes Energy Performance Contracting and Technology Products 2. We’re even providing tools and guidance to help build social value into procurements and measure the social value element of bids received.
But we know that we still have improvements we can make and that we can only provide what our customers really need if we listen to them more closely. So we’re investing time and resources in our customer relationships to better understand clients’ needs.
Our new Customer Experience Directorate is supporting this. This team is focused on listening to customers, understanding their needs and helping them to get the best possible value for the public purse.
That doesn’t mean we can’t challenge them though – and we do. If a customer is too prescriptive to a supplier, we risk limiting innovation and ending up with a less satisfactory solution than might otherwise have developed. So we will continue to encourage engagement between customers and suppliers in the early stages of procurement in order to increase the chances of valuable leaps forward which make government smarter as well as increasing value for the taxpayer.
The changes we’re making at CCS mean we’re also looking afresh at our suppliers too – at how we work with them, at how we can better leverage the private sector’s ability to innovate for the benefit of the public sector.
By introducing new but proven technology sooner than has previously been possible, citizens will see improvements across the services they experience. We are confident we can bring these technologies through faster than ever because of the relationships we are building with the tech industry and the purchasing platforms we are creating for our customers. Technology is obviously an SME-heavy sector, so we will see a significant amount of spend going through smaller innovators. But they will only be attracted by simpler procurement processes – we’re working hard to ensure that will be the case, and we’re really excited about this aspect of our work.
We have also invested in our people, and continue to ensure our processes are easier to use for both customers and suppliers.
We’re not there yet. CCS is on a transformation journey but we have put our digital agenda at the fore of the organisation.
For example, the CCS Fleet Portal is a live, competitive quoting tool for standard build cars and light commercial vehicles. With it, customers can direct award to suppliers on the CCS Vehicle Purchase and Vehicle Lease frameworks.
The on-line selector allows customers to identify the vehicles that best meet their needs and, since its relaunch in January, 882 users across 560 organisations have registered. An average of 11,500 lease quotes are being generated each month delivering market comparator savings of 11.3% to our customers.
This is just one example of how we are using digital solutions to make our processes more intuitive and attractive to use.
Our Research Marketplace is used to inform government policies and ensure services are built on robust evidence, but it is accessed via a dynamic purchasing system. This not only allows for unlimited suppliers, but puts the customer in control; allowing them to select the areas of work that they want to commission and enabling as broad or as specific range of suppliers as they need.
Of course, self-serve won’t suit every agreement. Some customers in certain markets will require more support and we can offer this too. As I set out earlier, our approach is to listen to our customers and find out which route to market suits them best so that our agreements are appropriate and effective.
We’re even listening to our competitors because we recognise there is expertise elsewhere outside CCS. In fact, we’re working collaboratively with like-minded organisations because we believe we all have a role to play.
It’s our view that together we can raise standards, innovate and make savings across the public sector for the benefit of all.
It seems to me that innovation, both in the products and services our suppliers can offer our customers, and in the way CCS itself thinks and works, is how we will drive the transformation of our public services. After all, that’s what we’re here for.