Why we have to invest now in commercial capability

posted by Simon Tse
18 July 2022

With the government’s Public Procurement Bill now taking its first steps through parliament, the focus is shifting towards ensuring the whole public sector has the skills and support it needs to realise the benefits that reform can bring. 

The bill sets out a number of ambitions with the ultimate aim of creating a more flexible, commercial system to meet the country’s needs while remaining compliant with our international obligations. 

The government plans to take advantage of the UK’s exit from the EU to streamline the number of rules currently in place, replacing them with a single regime, reducing administration costs and encouraging innovation.

There will be increased transparency in the publication schedule for procurement notices, extending from planning to termination and including contract performance, more opportunities for meaningful pre-market engagement and negotiation, and new powers to tackle underperforming suppliers and protect national security.

And the lessons of the last two years will be learned, with new processes for periods of crisis that retain flexibility while increasing competition and reducing reliance on direct awards.

Each of these changes will require a shift in how public sector buyers think and act, supported by training and guidance that can speak to the wide range of experience and expertise that exists across the whole public sector.

At the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), we’re already preparing for the public procurement landscape of the future. 

Recognising diversity of experience

It’s crucial to remember that there is no single, easily quantifiable ‘public sector buyer’. The local government, health, and education sectors each contain a myriad of unique challenges for commercial capability.

Not all public sector procurement professionals would even recognise themselves as such. Many of our customers tell us that buying is just one of many tasks they, as individuals, are required to do - albeit one that requires unique skills. 

It’s why we at CCS have been publishing regular, easy to digest best practice guidance in the shape of our Procurement Essentials series, aimed at explaining common principles and concepts of procurement to public sector buyers who may not have a background in the profession.

It’s also why we’ve been investing in contract management training for hundreds of local government workers through our Contract Management Pioneer Programme. 

The programme is funded by CCS and the Local Government Commercial Team in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in collaboration with the Local Government Association. Training is provided by the Government Commercial Function through the Government Commercial College. 

Embedding the changes of the Public Procurement Bill

Long-term planning for skills development will be essential if we’re to ensure that the public sector is ready to maximise the benefits of changes to public procurement practice the Government is planning for the coming years.

There will be new kinds of framework and new digital platforms to master, and greater consideration will have to be made of the opportunities to increase social value, carbon net zero, and to reserve opportunities for UK suppliers, SMEs, and social enterprises.

A programme of learning and development is therefore being developed by the Government Commercial Function, combining knowledge drops, communities of practice, e-learning modules, and more intensive courses.

Whatever form the final legislation takes, commercial teams across the public sector will be able to access the learning and development support they need to maximise the benefits of a new, streamlined public procurement regime.

☛ Simon Tse is chief executive officer at CCS

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