Public sector ‘needs CCS at this critical time’

28 June 2017

The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) is “absolutely what the public sector needs” at this time of change, the organisation’s chief executive has said.

Malcolm Harrison, who has headed up the government’s centralised procurement service since last May, said this was an important time for the UK public sector and that a sustainable funding model would be critical in meeting coming challenges.

“We’ve got a changing demographics, an ageing population… and even more demanding citizens,” said Harrison. On top of this he listed the challenges of greater devolution, health and social care integration and Brexit. “There is an enormous amount going on in terms of the public sector.” 

Speaking at the Public Sector Show in London yesterday, Harrison said he admitted CCS was “on a journey” but said the concept behind the centralised procurement service had always been right.

“The rationale of having a central buying team focused on the common goods and services for the entire public sector has to be one of the ways that we achieve greater value,” he said. “The CCS, I believe, is absolutely what the public sector needs at this critical time.”

The CCS has been in the spotlight recently after a National Audit Office report said it had not achieved value for money. In a subsequent hearing of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee in January, Harrison said the organisation had been too focused on increasing the number of departments it purchased for and had failed to properly aggregate the spend it was centralising.

Speaking yesterday, Harrison said CCS had invested heavily to ensure it had the right people and the right technology to be “very commercial and very effective at the same time”. “It’s not just about aggregation. It’s hugely important that whilst we do get value from aggregation, we also get massive value from expertise,” he said.

He also said over the last nine to 12 months CCS has been working to simplify its processes, and he recognised it had often been accused by suppliers and customers of having documents that were too complicated and processes that were too long.

He added: “We can do this [simplify processes] whether we are in the EU or outside of the EU. It’s important that we are compliant with the regulations, but we must find ways of not having too lengthy a process.” 

Harrison said CCS handles an annual spend of around £12bn and operates with about 17,000 customers and 5,000 suppliers. Central government departments and NHS trusts were among the organisation where CCS has been able to make some of its biggest savings, but Harrison said its work with local authorities was most important. “To me it’s those smaller numbers which are actually the ones that really matter, because they’re big numbers for the authorities,” he said.

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