Gareth Rhys Williams said there will be a focus on using the same methodology to manage contracts ©Leo Wilkinson
Gareth Rhys Williams said there will be a focus on using the same methodology to manage contracts ©Leo Wilkinson

Learning to buy better to save public funds

UK public sector buyers are being trained en masse in consistent contract management to save the public money and improve outcomes, said the government’s chief commercial officer.

Speaking at the Public Sector Solutions Expo in London, Gareth Rhys Williams said 4,000 civil servants had taken part in training on consistent contract management since the initiative launched in November last year. 

The training is offered at three different levels, depending on how much of your day-to-day role relates to managing contracts and supplier relationships.

The civil service spends around £49bn each year on contracts with third-party suppliers, often on goods and services for the public. Rhys Williams said the goal is to have 30,000 people trained to use the same methodology to manage contracts effectively to save money for taxpayers and get better outcomes from suppliers.

“A vendor, wherever they meet us, will see the same methodology and the same drive for performance. That will help as there’s nothing worse as a vendor than having someone across the table who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It doesn’t help you get the best outcomes for the contracts that you put in place,” he said.

Over the past four years, the Government Commercial Function (GCF) has established tools and skills training, which can be applied across the public sector. It created the Knowledge Hub, a platform that gives procurement professionals access to 4,000 colleagues working to share insight, advice and best practice.

Rhys Williams said: “Somewhere, someone else will have solved the problem that is bugging you and if you can access that information quicker, that helps you do your job better.”

Following concerns over outsourcing after the collapse of Carillion and later worries over the fate of Interserve, Rhys Williams said the government is closely monitoring around 30 vendors that touch almost all government departments and councils. 

As part of this process, the public sector’s largest vendors, such as Vodafone, are called in once a quarter to speak to a mixed group of central and local government employees. 

“We’re working through case studies of where they’ve [the supplier] improved, making them aware of where they have yet to improve. It is using our scale, using our bandwidth, using our muscle to allow the smallest public sector procurement agency to frankly piggyback on the back of the Ministry of Defence or the Department for Work and Pensions.”

It also allows the public sector to procure at scale for things like energy, as “scale counts”, Rhys Williams continued. 

Through procuring this way, Rhys Williams said the commercial function has delivered savings of £2bn each year and has seen “better RAG [red, amber, green] ratings on contracts, a lower numbers of disputes and lower numbers of challenges”.

Rhys Williams said the Outsourcing Playbook, launched by the government earlier this year, outlines how to work with vendors and “not do the silly things we’ve done before and frankly, outsource things that should never be outsourced without due care and attention”.

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