What do civil servants really think of the government's key suppliers?

The latest Strategic Suppliers Index reveals that officials are increasingly focused on value for money – and frustrated with the rigidity of contracts

By Dods Research team

01 Jun 2016

For the second year running, the government’s 38 Strategic Suppliers have been assessed and ranked according to the perceptions of the civil service. Dods Research – CSW's sister organisation – surveyed more than 1,500 civil servants in February 2016 to find out what they thought about these organisations.

The Strategic Suppliers list was established by the Cabinet Office in 2010 to ensure better management of the government’s main suppliers, and to enhance value for money and coordination across departments. Each supplier is assigned a Crown Representative – appointed by the Crown Commercial Service – who leads on the government’s relationship with a specific commercial supplier. 

The survey results, published in the Strategic Suppliers Index 2016 by Dods, provide a fascinating insight into public sector procurement after several years of austerity. Respondents were asked for their perspective on each Strategic Supplier, focussing on value for money, understanding of the public sector, and trustworthiness. Five of the 38 suppliers had relatively low name recognition (fewer than 200 respondents knew of them) and were removed from the results, leaving 33 Strategic Suppliers in the index.

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Given the squeeze on budgets, the survey revealed that almost the entire cohort of Strategic Suppliers saw a slight deterioration in their overall rating in 2016 compared to when the exercise was first completed in early 2015. Only four companies saw their overall rating increase over the past twelve months.

Acting as the major drag on nearly every company’s score in the index was whether that supplier represented value for money. While the vast majority of suppliers registered positive numbers for trustworthiness and understanding of the unique needs of the public sector, when it came to value for money, 28 of the 33 Strategic Suppliers were perceived negatively. 

Survey responses from civil servants working in procurement reveals sharply this focus on value for money – 93% said that price was very important or important, up from 91% in 2015. However, price alone was not the only major driver for civil servants when selecting suppliers. Alongside price, the second most important factor was an understanding of public sector needs. Ninety per cent of respondents felt that this issue was very important or important – up from 88% in 2015.    

Alongside the focus on value for money, two key themes emerged during the course of the research for the 2016 index. First, there was a wide frustration with the rigidity of contracts signed between the government and its suppliers. Senior civil servants felt that Strategic Suppliers needed to recognise that government policy is always evolving and there was a need to move with the government where needed. Secondly, there needed to be greater awareness in the civil service of how the private sector operates, not just a requirement that private firms understood the public sector. 

The research will be repeated in early 2017 to track improvement and changes. If you would like to subscribe to the Strategic Supplier Index 2016 or to sign up for the 2017 report please get in touch.

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