Delivering reform to transform public procurement

Gareth Rhys Williams, government chief commercial officer, discusses the Government Commercial Function Strategy and how procurement will contribute to government success in the coming years
Gareth Rhys Williams, Government CCO

At the end of last year, you launched the Government Commercial Function Strategy. This covers the period 2021 to 2025 – but what changes can we expect to see from the commercial function in 2022?

In 2022 we will start delivering on some of our really big commitments, and you can expect to see changes which lay the foundation for those commitments. We will lay legislation for the new procurement rules. In our Strategy, we talk about working more closely with the wider public sector; this year we will publish an updated Commercial Continuous Improvement Assessment Framework (CCIAF) to align the definition of best commercial practice across central government throughout the lifecycle. We will also make our learning and development offer available to colleagues in these bodies, and deliver some discrete activities, like launching the Government Major Contracts Portfolio and our Buyer and Supplier Information platform.


What elements of the strategy are you most excited about?

I am most excited to deliver the reforms which will transform public procurement; they will create a step change in how we spend public money to best effect. It is a hugely ambitious programme of change and a unique once in a career opportunity to overhaul how we buy. The change will not just be about a new rulebook - but also about a culture change in how we apply the rules. The benefits this will bring include the flexibility to tailor processes to the needs of individual procurements, so that procurement outcomes and objectives can be better achieved. We expect the new more open, fair and competitive system will deliver better value for money and social value and will benefit the public sector and suppliers alike. The bigger picture on this is that not only are we ensuring that the goods and services are bought more easily and with greater transparency - but also upskilling and empowering commercial staff and raising the bar across the commercial and procurement profession as a whole.


Talk to us about something you’ve already been working on so far to put the strategy into action?

There are two big pieces of work we’ve ramped up so far. The first is our contribution to the government’s Net Zero by 2050 target, which we committed to as part of the ‘Influence and Scale’ pillar of the strategy. Given the over £290bn we spend each year on procurement, there is scope for us to make a real difference in this area. Last summer, we established a new procurement policy which requires suppliers bidding for contracts worth over £5m a year to have published a carbon reduction plan.  Firms that fail to do so may be deselected from the procurement. Not only does this policy support the government’s plan to build back greener, and our legal commitment to achieve Net Zero by 2050; it ensures that potential government suppliers will be publishing plans to reduce their emissions right across their operations not just for the contract in question, in order to bid for major government contracts. This has never been done before, and this measure will have a significant impact on the proportion of the UK economy that will be committed to, and working towards, Net Zero by 2050.

We’ve also launched the Government Major Contracts Portfolio, which is part of the Declaration on Government Reform. This will enable us to deliver better commercial outcomes by monitoring and reporting on the most complex and strategically critical contracts across government, learning lessons across the portfolio rather than just one at a time, helping to improve commercial management practises within individual departments.


One of the key things the Government Commercial Function Strategy talks about is the importance of people. It’s obviously been a challenging start to the year for people, with guidance to work-from-home in place for most of January. How will the commercial function ensure that people are at the heart of these strategic plans – whether working from home or in the office?

I think it's absolutely essential that everyone in the GCF understands and contributes to delivering this Strategy, and we're making sure this happens in a couple of ways. Firstly, we're going to publish a pipeline of opportunities to participate in our projects delivering the strategy - for example taking part in user research, focus groups, workshops and solution testing. This will make sure that we keep the voice of our people across the function at the forefront of delivery, as well as including everyone in every corner of the function instead of relying on the usual suspects.

We're also going to keep prioritising our work to develop regional networks for our people all around the UK, culminating in a series of regional conferences over the spring (including our first ever conference in Northern Ireland). These events are so important to help people build relationships with their colleagues both inside their team and out, not least because many of us have now found we're working in a completely different region to our physical office.

We want to keep supporting our incredibly dedicated professionals across the GCF, not just to flourish in their careers but to keep delivering immense value for the public purse. I am personally immensely proud of what our people have achieved, especially during the pandemic, and I’m pleased to see they are getting the recognition they deserve through awards and honours across the board. 


Can you tell us a little bit about how the Government Commercial Function Strategy will support the government’s levelling up agenda?

Our biggest contribution to this really important agenda is to build local government capacity and capability, enabled by a dedicated programme of improvement covering a range of priorities. Strengthening the sector’s commercial and procurement capacity and capability, aligned with the ‘Our People’ pillar of the GCF’s strategy, will be a key focus of that programme and we are already working in partnership with DLUHC, across government and with the sector to drive that activity forward.

We will be extending centrally designed training, advice and guidance, and market and supplier intelligence to the sector which will enable local authorities to make sound commercial decisions, achieve savings and service improvements, and support delivery that represents best value across the broad range of public services at a local level. These collaborative endeavours will be an enabler for the improved educational, skills, and health outcomes, local productivity, and regeneration, which is in many ways what the Levelling Up agenda is all about.


Tell us something that colleagues across government can do to support the Government Commercial Function Strategy?

The best way to support our Strategy is to talk to us at the very beginning of policies and projects which you think may need some kind of commercial activity to be delivered, to make sure we identify the best route to do it. If you want to learn more about the commercial function, we are bringing back Commercial Awareness Week at the end of May this year and will have lots of opportunities for you to learn more about what we do. We will also be participating in wider events like Civil Service Live in the summer, so please do come and say hello. For our commercial community members, keep checking our GCF Knowledge Hub for opportunities to work on our projects, and volunteer where you can spare some time. We can't get this right without you!

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