Crown Commercial Service – comments on annual report and accounts (part 2)

We started featuring the recent Annual Report from the Crown Commercial Service yesterday. We covered their current transformation, and the positives that can be drawn from the report. However, as you might expect, there are a number of concerns we’ve identified too. But please read this in conjunction with yesterday’s piece to get a balanced picture.

Concerns

  • The NAO raised some issues around the savings numbers – we won’t go into this here again (see previous comments), but there did seem to be somewhat less rigour than previous years and a sense that all avenues were being explored to hit a politically acceptable number!
  • Generally, the report provides less data in a number of areas compared to what was published during the previous David Shields regime. We previously saw information on number of projects (contracting exercises) undertaken for example, which we don’t get now. However, arguably some of the detail would only be of interest to the geekiest of CCS geeks anyway ...
  • The report mentions the Facilities Management contracting model with estimated savings – but in truth, this programme is months and months behind schedule. And certain other major contracts are almost universally hated by users and the supply base e.g. contingent labour. Although to be fair, that pre-dates CCS and the latest report.
  • On the people side of things, there is a passing mention of the employee satisfaction survey. But if you look into the detail, the overall results are not great for CCS and the presentation in the document is highly selective. The two poorest scores come in “Learning and development” (38% satisfaction) and “ Leadership and managing change” (32%). Now we suspect the survey was done before the new top team was bedded in, so we’ll make allowance for that, but this year needs to see some improvement, and balanced reporting also next time around.
  • And on that learning and development issue, it is surprising that spend on training has declined 30% from £559,000 in 2012/13 to £387,000 in 1013/14 – despite a headcount increase, and even though the organisation is recruiting strongly and presumably going through this big change and re-focusing programme. However, it may be that more is being provided internally – see the comment yesterday about the training on EU Directives. Travel and subsistence spend is up 20% though, perhaps because of the managed service approach requiring more visits to client sites?
  • The Procurement Investment Fund is officially dead. It is no more. It is pushing up the daisies ... etc. CCS surplus is not being re-invested to help develop skills in the departments, which seems a shame as it seemed like such a good idea and a real positive in terms of the perception of CCS. However, £3 million CCS profit has been bunged back into Cabinet Office to support the “costs of commercial reform, of which transformation to crown commercial service is a key strand”.
  • There is also an odd asset write off (some £9 million) against the “Whitehall district heating system”. That is apparently an internally owned and run heating system that supplies many government buildings. And it’s now knackered. No fault attached to CCS of course, but just seemed interesting - more on that to come if we feel like investigating further!
  • Whilst perhaps we shouldn’t expect this in a report and accounts, there is a lack of hard targets or commitments to 2014/15 performance. There are some general objectives, but they lack measurability. Indeed, how will success be measured - for instance in the advisory area, now staffed with all these well-paid and capable ex-private sector consultants? Running a consulting business ain’t as easy as it looks (he said, scars still visible). But we do understand that a forward looking CCS plan will be published later this year – that should be interesting and may answer many of these questions.

So 2013/14 reads like a year of the 3 Rs for CCS. That’s re-grouping, recruitment, and readying the organisation for moving to a new structure and business model – whilst still delivering the vital savings that keep the politicians happy.

But have the necessary changes in CCS been embedded? How will the new approach and moving away from a framework-based approach actually work? How will the expensive “consultants” demonstrate their value? These are key questions that only 2014/15 progress will answer. But we wish CCS well, as every taxpayer should ...

First Voice

  1. dan2:

    A reference to a write off of a Whitehall district heating system and not a single joke about whitehall and hot air. I shall cancel my subscription fortwith.

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