Driving commercial awareness in the civil service

Clare Gibbs, Senior Director and Commercial Specialist at the Cabinet Office, describes how her team is looking to embed commercial awareness from the word go

“Obviously, it’s critical.” Clare Gibbs, Senior Director and Commercial Specialist at the Cabinet Office, is well aware of the importance of commercial awareness. The public sector spends around £300 billion a year with external suppliers, and Clare leads the recently formed Market Sourcing & Suppliers team, which is tasked with delivering value for UK citizens.

In a recent conversation with Proxima, Clare shared her thoughts on the importance of commercial awareness and how her team is looking to embed commercial awareness from the word go.

The aims of Commercial Awareness Week

“Commercial Awareness Week ran from 23rd May to 27th May and was aimed at everyone in the public sector from across different functions who wanted to develop their commercial understanding. It was aimed at anyone and everyone in the Civil Service who might be involved in sourcing or procurement.

Our team is focussed right across the commercial lifecycle, but what we really want to get to is a situation where we are involved right at the start. We ultimately want to be able to raise awareness of the benefits that commercial can bring to projects or programmes when they are included at the very beginning of the process. We want to be at the table before people even know what they are going to do, so we can really help shape projects and deliver the best value for taxpayers.”

Creating the tools to enable commercial awareness

“Our aim is to provide people with the policies and tools that they need to make better, more commercially aware decisions which ultimately result in better policies and outcomes for all. This has involved developing playbooks across areas such as sourcing, construction, consultancy, and digital & data. We’re committed to refreshing these on an annual basis, working together with suppliers so that they are based on an honest and current assessment of us as a customer.

We want to make sure it is as easy and accessible as possible for colleagues to upskill themselves and learn about the work we do in the commercial team. We run a range of e-learning modules, facilitator-led training sessions and bespoke support designed for specific departments. We’ve had over 30,000 attendances at the Sourcing Playbook knowledge drops we deliver, and the great thing is that we are seeing the difference it’s making.”

Working collaboratively and in partnership with suppliers

Clare’s team works to engage suppliers and improve supplier relationships in order to deliver better policies and better outcomes.

“This is about collaborative working and true partnerships, which is the way we get the best value for money and ultimately deliver better services. We manage the top 40 suppliers to government, and this involves anything from working with the supplier and the department to resolve issues;working collaboratively to develop innovative solutions to complex issues; and considering how to  overcome barriers and deliver policy initiatives together.”

Don’t just take our word for it

The impact of the work of Clare and her team is also supported by supplier Hilary Robertson, Strategy Director at Sopra Steria, who commented, “The Outsourcing Programme had a clear and pressing purpose that was shared across public and private sector. It was well designed from the outset, with top-level sponsorship, and most of all, was executed superbly, with an open mind, as a critical friend and with a sense of humour. It uniquely brought competing Companies together with Authority buyers and created a forum to share, listen and understand each other, so that, together, they could create a much better and much more informed way of working.”

The Business Services Association can also attest to the great work delivered by the Markets, Sourcing & Suppliers team ‘​​The BSA is a membership organisation for large and small businesses and VCSE organisations supplying service and infrastructure projects to the private and public sectors.  As such we interact with a large number of organisations.

 The Sourcing Programme team have pioneered collaborative working, proactively seeking dialogue with a range of stakeholders in support of defined objectives.  In doing so, it has been possible to improve transparency, consider evidence from a range of organisations, align work in support of public sector objectives, and achieve clear improvements in outcomes.’


Commercial Awareness week was held from 23-27 May and delivered a fantastic agenda with speakers from across government and the wider public sector. The events covered a range of themes, including sustainable procurement, levelling up, transforming public procurement and much more. Each seminar delivered will soon be available ‘on-demand’. These will be advertised via the GCF newsletter, sign up to the newsletter via gcf.communications@cabinetoffice.gov.uk.

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