Crothers plans to even the odds in government contract negotiations

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
8 October 2013

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9 October 2013 | Will Green

An expert sub-team within the newly-created Crown Commercial Service (CCS) will assist Whitehall buyers when negotiating big deals.

In an interview with SM, government CPO Bill Crothers said in the past “relatively junior or inexperienced people” had been sent into talks with expert negotiators from big suppliers and the new “complex transactions team” would help “level the odds”.


Crothers, responding to criticism of the commercial skills of civil servants in managing contracts, said the historical separation of purchasing between departments and a lack of managerial support had “tied people’s hands behind their backs”.


“I think it’s important to acknowledge how hard it is to work this side of the fence. The scale and complexity is higher than anything you’ve experienced in the private sector and the degree of profile things get. A small mistake can end up on the front page of the newspaper,” he said.


“I think what’s happened over the years is that to some degree we have tied people’s hands behind their backs in how they conduct business.


“We were putting either relatively junior or inexperienced people in against experienced and more senior negotiators. If you have someone from one of the big suppliers in something like BPO or IT and they are negotiating and selling a deal, that guy is probably on half a million pounds. They frame, sell, negotiate and close deals and move on. The official who typically was leading that would have been earning a small multiple of their salary. Oftentimes they were doing it first time. That’s not fair.


“What we absolutely need to do, and I don’t think this is necessarily about the individuals, it’s about how we manage ourselves, is put people into positions where they are able to do the job. If you’ve got somebody negotiating on a big deal with a big supplier you should have expertise deployed.


“An element of the Crown Commercial Service is we will have a sub team called the complex transactions team. That team will go in and supplement a department when negotiating a big deal, so you are levelling the odds. That team will be moving from department to department.”


Crothers said the CCS will contain around 600 people, drawn from departments, the Government Procurement Service and outside Whitehall, and he expects to recruit 50 to 60 new people. It will control £10 to £15 billion of spend.


“If you’re a procurement professional and you either want to make your career or top your career off, really reach the pinnacle, truthfully I can’t imagine many places better than working in the CCS,” Crothers said.


In another development that will boost Cabinet Office control of department spending, Crothers said a letter had been sent to commercial directors announcing decisions around recruitment, objective setting and performance and remuneration must go through the CPO.

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