Crown Commercial Service Annual Report – CEO Signs Off

Another recent government announcement (amongst the end of term rush) we were slow to pick up on was the Crown Commercial Service Annual Report and Accounts. For new readers, CCS is the UK’s central government collaborative buying organisation.

It’s not a bad swansong for Malcolm Harrison, the outgoing CEO, who is off to run CIPS – last week may have been his last in post - although it is both a document of record and a marketing and PR product (like any annual report put out by any commercial business).

So to start with the negatives; although Harrison does admit that “We learned some hard lessons in the test phase about what works and what doesn’t,”  the Crown Marketplace programme is still arguably given an overly-positive spin. And there is no mention of the Management Consultancy framework being pulled at the last minute, to the great annoyance of the market.

Continuing with the glass half empty summary, spend with the wider public sector has remained static, which does not surprise us at all (I hate to sound like a know-it-all, but I told Harrison ages ago this would not be as easy as some of his Board were telling him it would be…) And ultimately, CCS burnt through £10 million from the capital reserve, although this was actually better than plan and the accounts are pretty opaque to the casual observer.

But, turning round to the positives, Harrison can be proud of many of the points made in the report. Spend from central government was up around 10% to £6.7 billion, and perhaps most importantly, the reputation of CCS with its core customer base has improved significantly, with a “Post Procurement Net Promoter Score of +24 achieved”, for instance.

The operating model may not be fully embedded, but there is a much clearer sense of the role of CCS and how it interacts with its customers. And along with the customers feeling more positive, staff satisfaction has headed in the right direction too – the people engagement score of 63% was up 5%.

We still have some cynicism about how benefits are measured (although it is much better than it was a few years back), but “£601m of commercial benefits (were) achieved comprising CG £354m and WPS £247m” which may be down from the £725 million last year but still looks like a healthy return on investment.

Good work was done in areas like Crown Hosting (which we reported on here) and while the focus is often on the categories that go wrong – like Consulting – there has been progress in others, including technology, resourcing and fleet, as well as greater (and welcome) focus on social value.

CCS has also increased its efforts on recruiting the right people, whilst at the same time reducing staff and contractor numbers by around 5% overall. But staff costs are up slightly; we suspect Harrison would see “fewer and better people, better paid” as a good legacy!

Staff capability is clearly another key priority. For instance, most informed observers would see CCS as being still well short of “world-class organisation” status in terms of category management, but there are signs that it does now have enough humility to recognise its weaknesses and work to address them in areas like this.

So how do we assess Harrison’s tenure generally? Harrison says this in his performance report.

Change on this scale is never easy and it has taken longer than I had anticipated, and planned for, to embed some of the improvements we have made to our governance processes and to our new operating model. The relationship with our customers is markedly better but we still face challenges in standardising the support we give to departments.

We suspect he was and is genuinely frustrated by the pace of change, as well as finding some of the “politics” (PAC for instance) to be time-wasting and inefficient. But he should remember that he came in when CCS was under genuine existential threat, with very poor staff moral and central government senior stakeholders pretty much in open revolt about the changes in the procurement model and their relationship with CCS.

He has steadied the ship, got it on the right course, improved crew morale, avoided most of the icebergs, and the prospects for bookings on the next cruise look good (to stretch an analogy to breaking point)! The ship’s computer still needs attention though …

So when he looks back with the benefits of hindsight in a couple of years’ time, we think Harrison should feel content about his work and time in charge. And we look forward to welcoming the new CEO shortly, no doubt a major figure in the procurement world, and of course wish them every success as well.

First Voice

  1. Ian Howells:

    I agree with your conclusions. I know several excellent leaders who have joined recently. They will make a significant impact.

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