The savvy shopper: CCS boss Simon Tse on delivering value for money and supporting policy priorities

The Crown Commercial Service has helped the public sector achieve record commercial benefits of almost £3bn, as well as respond to new global crises. Here, CCS chief executive Simon Tse shares his lessons from the past year
Simon Tse photographed by Simon Ridgway for CSW

By Simon Tse

11 Aug 2022

Back in July, the Crown Commercial Service published our accounts for 2021-22.

The last 12 months have seen the continuation of many of the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic presented but the success of the vaccination campaign means that, in many places, the public sector is now refocusing our efforts to face new challenges. 

It has been the first full year of operating post the UK’s exit from the EU. Last summer saw evacuations from Afghanistan, and as it drew to a close, another global crisis emerged following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While these have undoubtedly been exceptional challenges, CCS has remained committed to supporting our customers with their commercial requirements in trying circumstances. 

For example, during the Afghanistan crisis we supported the repatriation of thousands of people. We also set up a 24/7 service to procure 150,000 emergency essential items, including food, blankets and nappies, for Afghan evacuees arriving at UK airports.

In March we worked round the clock with our customer support teams to help customers identify Russian-linked firms within their supply chains and allay their concerns regarding price increases, closely monitoring government policy and providing guidance on the Procurement Policy Note 01/22. 

Overall, CCS continues to help even more customers across the public sector through delivering almost £3bn in commercial benefits. This includes £4m in savings for 14 NHS trusts on mobile voice and data services.

At a time of rising inflation and squeezed budgets, the savings and better terms we are able to offer through our agreements is invaluable – supporting vital services being delivered right across the public sector.

During 2021-22 we recorded strong spend growth. £27.6bn of public sector spend was channelled through our agreements, doubling our spend from five years ago. 

The more spend that comes through our agreements, the more money we can generate to re-invest in raising the bar, investing in our own commercial capability and sharing that knowledge and expertise with our customers. For example through our new Contract Management Pioneer Programme, in partnership with the Department for Levelling Up, Homes and Communities, which provides training for local authorities to effectively manage the key stages of commercial delivery.

And we want to continue to do more in adding real and further value to our customers as they work with us. Our strong spend growth figure means we can continue to invest more in the customers that use CCS. In July 2022, working in partnership with NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care, we announced the roll out and £12.8m of funding for the Atamis e-commerce system, enabling one common procurement platform for all NHS trusts in England. 

Social, environment and economic benefits from every pound of public money spent

The sheer scale of activities that we have been involved in over the last 12 months has been exceptional. Early in the year, our focus was on continuing to support the Covid-19 response on behalf of our customers. Now we must look to grasp the opportunities of the Covid-19 recovery and do even more to support our customers across the wider public sector and to help the Government build back better, fairer and greener and to grow the economy. 

Our priority always has to be on creating more value for our customers but we also continue to support them with key policy priorities, such as levelling up, carbon net zero and delivering social value. 

CCS currently has 18,000 customers across the length and breadth of the UK. The opportunity for social value to be generated by our customers through our procurement solutions is clear. Many of our frameworks, including our recently awarded Facilities Management and Workplace Services, now require suppliers to report on social value metrics including modern slavery, carbon net zero, small and medium-sized enterprise and prompt payments.

In November we published our first annual modern slavery statement – setting out the positive steps CCS is taking to identify, prevent and mitigate the risks of modern slavery in our operations and supply chains.

In January we published our first SME action plan, outlining how we're helping the public sector to meet the government’s aspiration to level the playing field for SMEs. In the last year alone SMEs have benefited from £2.2bn in direct spending through CCS agreements, an additional £687m directly compared to 2020-21.

And we’re continuing to help customers right now to understand their biggest carbon net zero challenges. In July 2021 we launched our first carbon net-zero working group – delivering expert advice on net-zero issues in the run-up to Cop26. 

We’ve identified dozens of agreements that can be used to help customers with their journey – from the obvious areas like fleet and energy, to technology hardware and even, in future, food. Further investment in internal training and governance continues to bring new agreements into focus too. 

CCS is now helping suppliers to build Carbon Reduction Plans (CRPs) into their bids, in line with the latest government procurement policy guidance. Our CCS sustainability team has already trained thousands of suppliers to help them produce, release, and maintain CRPs that conform to new requirements. CCS itself is one of the first government departments to develop and publish our own CRP.

Our vision for Carbon Net Zero is that we will achieve an integrated offer with easy buying solutions. We will only do that by continuing the conversation with customers and suppliers. 

A continued focus on improving ease of use on our agreements for our customers

Once again, we’ve been able to demonstrate how CCS can assist customers to deliver on their priorities, achieving record commercial benefits for the public sector while achieving our target to double spend through our agreements. 

But we won’t stop here. We’re working towards a target spend of £30bn through CCS agreements by 2024 and ever increasing commercial benefits for our customers. Fundamental to our continued success and delivery of all of our objectives is ensuring that our commercial agreements are simple and easy to access and use, increasingly through digital means. This remains complex when delivering the wide range of products and services that we do, but we have had notable successes this year including delivering a “guided match” solution for our active commercial agreements, as well as launching the Low Value Procurement Solution and the complementary Tail Spend Framework. 

Our focus for the next 12 months is preparing ourselves for the upcoming rules reform and its implementation in 2023. We’re working collaboratively with the Cabinet Office’s central commercial teams to support the delivery. Our key priority is making sure that we understand how we will grasp the opportunities that the new regime offers so we can bring even more power to our customers' procurement. 

Now more than ever, as the government works to grow the economy to address the cost of living, procurement has a vital role to play in supporting and strengthening our country and our public sector. The approach we’ve taken and the lessons we’ve learned over the past 12 months will stand us in good stead to respond to the next set of challenges in 2022-23.

You can find a full list of Crown Commercial Service commercial agreements and details of how to build policy considerations into your procurement in our interactive digital brochure.

Read the most recent articles written by Simon Tse - Procurement and the pandemic: How CCS rose to the challenge of Covid-19

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