Designing a world class strategy, significantly shaping and influencing markets with a multi-billion pound spend, providing strategic category direction and creating centres of expertise and excellence. These are just some of the activities carried out by specialists working at the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), an organisation that procures common goods and services for central government and the wider public sector across four key areas: Corporate Solutions; Technology; Buildings and People. One of those areas, Corporate Solutions is led by David Skinner who joined four years ago from the financial services sector.
Transformation & change
David’s remit was to help transform the way public sector procurement operated. His vision was to get procurement working strategically rather than just operationally. There was also a need to impart further private sector expertise in order to complement the existing service of providing framework agreements to 18 separate government departments, each with its own commercial team split into groups of spend category areas. There were some strategic forward views of markets in addition to the key focus on procurement compliance. “We have massively transformed either side of that process,” explains David, “and are now attracting best in class procurement talent from the private sector - people who are deep category experts and who can parachute into government departments, set up strategic and innovative supplier relationships and transform the way they work. We now have a pool of experts working across multiple departments leveraging the expertise of one central team which means we can truly influence and shape markets.”
Imparting private sector expertise
Two of those experts, Dave Duncan and Tracy Clark also joined from the private sector. Dave was an interim consultant working within the financial services sector and now heads up procurement for document management and logistics which brings together the categories of post, courier, print, office supplies, multi-functional devices, network printers and records management – a £1.2bn spend.
“I saw this as a once in a lifetime role – not only the opportunity to manage one of the biggest spends in the UK, but also the chance to set the strategy and direction for that spend and be part of the transformation. There are initiatives that you just wouldn’t have the opportunity to influence on the sort of scale that you can here. Changing paper usage from virgin white to recycled across the whole of the public sector for example and saving a group of London Borough Councils £750,000 on their postage – the equivalent of running four libraries for a year. Being able to demonstrate and measure that sort of impact is really satisfying.”
Tracy Clark, Head of Procurement for marketing, communications and research joined from the FMCG sector. “I was attracted by the change agenda and the ambition to be best in class. My business partners have a number of imperatives and whether that’s communicating messages about reducing the amount of sugar that we eat or recruiting more people into the armed forces, there will never be enough money. I am fortunate to work with a progressive set of business partners who are pushing as hard as I am to ensure that we are maximising every pound and that it goes to the right person with the right message at the right time. That’s about providing commercial value in its purest sense – about commercial deals which will deliver on the objectives that our business partners have. And while obviously it’s great to be in control of a large spend, for me it’s more about scale. The CCS has over 700 people managing around £15bn and that scale brings with it a fully formed procurement function. That then slots into the overall government commercial organisation (GCO) which is 44,000 strong and consequently monumental in scale. It gives us the tools, the technology and the ambition to be absolutely best in class.”
The bigger picture
While the customers and business partners may be government departments and the wider public sector, David Skinner is in no doubt as to who the CCS is really working for. “We look after the citizens of the UK, helping to deliver the very best public services. From the very smallest school or charity through to the largest government department, we are able to make a real difference to the savings they can make and consequently the front-line services they deliver. In essence we are helping to protect those front-line services and strengthen the UK economy, all in the interests of the UK taxpayer. It means we can really make a difference to the country and the people that work for us really get that - it gives an enormous sense of pride.”
And while David understands that winning hearts and minds is crucial he also understands the importance of offering competitive packages and best in class training and development. “Because we are a commercial organisation, we can offer bonuses for key roles that are competitive with the private sector as well as some of the best training and development packages I have ever seen – way ahead of those I have come across in my previous roles. Our commercial college, for example, supplements technical training and category expertise with leadership skills development. There are also career coaches, mentors and active talent management. It’s a forward thinking and creative place to work for procurement professionals but we need the right people with the right frame of mind. This is an environment for people who are really interested in the change agenda and who relish the opportunity to have the scope to implement, design and run those best in class commercial vehicles.”
The CCS has come a long way in four years and is continuing to develop and create innovative commercial solutions while also moving towards better and better technology. And if you ask David Skinner what the next stage of the journey will look like, his answer is simple: “Complementing the talent we already have - people like Tracy Clark and Dave Duncan – and then attracting more.”