Contract management: Gareth Rhys Williams reports on six months of training Whitehall’s goalkeepers

Government chief commercial officer Gareth Rhys Williams has set out ambitious plans to improve contract management across government. He tells CSW what has been achieved in the first six months of a new accreditation scheme

Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

By Gareth Rhys Williams

27 Jun 2019

With an annual spend of around £49bn on goods and services, improving contract management across government is vital to boosting value and efficiency.

Last year speaking to Civil Service World, I set out the Government Commercial Function’s plans to improve the skills of the estimated 30,000 civil servants who manage contracts in departments, only a small proportion of whom are dedicated procurement specialists.

Civil servants in these vital roles are like the goalkeepers of government but are often passed the ball in a high-pressure situation from their governmental team-mates.

We want a world where, when a policy colleague comes up with a great idea to solve a policy problem, we have the right commercial people in that department to decide how we should make that idea a reality.  contract managers will see that project through from the beginning, through the policy phrase into implementation, then run that contract afterwards.

This means that government needs to get to the point where project meetings can’t progress without the contract manager, just as you can’t play football without a goalkeeper.

The reality is that the majority of civil servants deliver some of the government’s most valuable and high-risk contracts as part of a wider role, from across different roles and professions, but it is vital that we give these goalkeepers of government the support they need from the rest of the team.

They often have excellent commercial skills and practice but have not been given the opportunity to undertake formal contract management training, which is why the GCF launched its contract management training and accreditation programme last November.

By upskilling the civil servants who make commercial decisions, and by creating a common contract management language, we will achieve better commercial outcomes and ensure value for money for the taxpayers.

The programme has three tiers of training for civil servants at all levels. The free, online foundation course provides the building blocks of good practice. The practitioner and expert levels build knowledge through face-to-face training, delivering more in-depth learning for those who manage more complex contracts.

After six months, what has the contract management programme achieved?

The course has attracted civil servants of all grades working in all functions, including policy, digital, project management, operational delivery and HR.

  • 750 civil servants have completed the foundation course and achieved accreditation
  • 4,500 are undergoing training or signed up and ready to begin
  • 1200 users have completed all six online modules
  • 500 are enrolled in the advanced level courses

In the first six months we’ve engaged 10% of the target population of contract managers. However, in the next six months, it must be a priority across all departments to encourage civil servants of all levels to achieve at least foundation accreditation. The International Association of Commercial and Contract Managers (IACCM) suggests that, on average, a contract ‘leaks’ 9% of its value over its lifetime. If we can reduce this through better contract management, even by only 1%, that will lead to a significant saving to the public purse. The more civil servants undertaking this training, the more confident we can be that the taxpayers’ £49bn is in capable hands.

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