Exclusive – Crown Commercial Service Announces Redundancy Programme

So what is going on in the UK government’s central procurement organisation, Crown Commercial Service? It is hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and what is somewhat startling is the number of fronts on which it is being attacked.

We’re going to have more this week on three commercial issues where that attack is really quite fierce – the contract for Contingent Labour, the Civil Service Learning contract (both of those with Capita as the supplier) and the Digital Services Framework.

Then we also heard last week that a voluntary redundancy scheme has been launched in CCS, offering enhanced terms (we assume) for people who want to leave. I should stress we have not seen any leaked documents – but we heard this from three reliable sources over the course of a couple of days last week.

What is strange and somewhat worrying here is that until recently, CCS was recruiting like mad. How has that suddenly turned round into needing to lose some people? Or is CCS hoping to get rid of people who don’t fit their needs in the future? We understand that is how it is being positioned internally – that recruitment will continue in some areas, but other activities may stop or be moved to other organisations or parts of Cabinet Office I guess. Meanwhile, the transformation of CCS continues.

However, the problem with voluntary redundancy is that you often struggle to get the “right” people to leave! Indeed, you tend to lose either your experienced experts, who see the opportunity of early retirement supplemented by some lucrative consulting, or younger, confident folk with only a few years experience but who know they are marketable outside. They might also feel that a programme such as this is not a good omen for the future. CCS will need to handle this carefully

But we have to wonder, given the pace of CCS recruitment over the last 2 or 3 years, whether something has changed to trigger this programme. Is CCS finding it harder to get money out of their client departments? Have some of the recent problems on frameworks meant that income is not coming in from the supply side as planned either? Remember, we never saw a business case for CCS – my Freedom of Information request was rejected and I didn’t pursue it. Perhaps I should have. There is still no business plan I can find on their website, so we can’t see where the organisation should be in terms of performance.

There is however the results of the staff engagement survey, published last month. That shows a worsening picture from a year ago in 8 of the 9 top level criteria, which are also all well below the “high performer” benchmark. The absolute figures don’t look too bad, to be fair, so 73% of staff are positive about “organisational objectives and purpose”. But the direction of travel is downwards; last year that scored 83%.

Only “pay and benefits” of those criteria has improved over the year, up 10% to 38% being positive! So that looks like a workforce that is somewhat happier about its reward, yet unhappier about everything else. “Resources and workload” and “organisational objectives and purpose” are the biggest fallers since last year’s study, which must be a concern.

I should stress again, we’re not anti-CCS. I would have followed a different strategy in some areas personally, but now the organisation is in place, we should all hope it works from a taxpayer point of view. And apart from any other feelings we have, it seems like at least half my friends in public procurement now work for CCS.  I want them to succeed. And CCS does good stuff - for instance, their training material relating to the new EU Directives has recently been published here. We'll take a look at this in more detail at some stage, but this is an example of where the organisation has added real value.

Anyway, we’ll look at those specific problem areas (contingent labour, training, digital services) over the next few days, and then perhaps analyse what CCS might do to get things moving in the right direction again.

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Voices (4)

  1. life:

    Here here Secret Squirrel!

    I would add that somewhere near the centre of the “bemusement” is the increasing lack of credibility of any of the claims of “savings”.

    Putting to one side whether it’s right to give up on “value” quite so easily and just look at cost savings to the extent they have, even now, if you set the whole thing up to make savings and then don’t have even a half way convincing method of calculating them eventually the whole thing (including and perhaps especially morale) will start to fall apart.

    It is true that you could argue the same across any number of Government departments, but given the purpose and commercial nature of CCS any shortcomings do get to appear particularly acute.

    Anyway, good luck to everybody in there. Let’s hope the next administration doesn’t just automatically set about reinventing the universe once again.

  2. tom catuk:

    CCS was a great idea conceptually – turning the Framework Factory that GPS had become, into something that customers would grow to respect – i.e. that could deliver benefts and efficiencies through a highly effective, end-to-end service.

    Some elements of the “required change” have been addressed, at least partially – for example the establishment of supplier innovation capability and recruitment of some bigger-hitting category experts that should (theoretically) garner respect from those tricky customers.

    Some areas seem however to be well behind the curve: the early models talked of building excellence in commercial insight – but this hasn’t happened. Business partnering was supposed to build the bridges with clients – and this doesn’t seem to be going well. Ditto the IT landscape.

    Most alarming is that the pre-existing shared service operation was intended to be built up to become an impressively efficient ‘processing engine’ to carry the bulk of the increase in service load, but seems not to have moved forward with anywhere near the required pace.

    I suspect the plan to reduce heads will need to be coupled with a parallel plan to re-invest some of the proceeds in these areas.

  3. Secret Squirrel:

    Please excuse the lack of paragraphs. Should have waited til I got onto a laptop.

  4. Secret Squirrel:

    The crux of the issue is that they aren’t and can’t deliver to the vision (I can’t bring myself to call it a strategy). Its all stood up on Crothers’ own opinions and the Minister’s personal (and genuine) interest (but with no expertise to understand the issues). So you have a growing centre, resisting departments who aren’t bought in, non-CG public bodies bemused by yet another and a staff who don’t know what this is about. Add in Sally Collier’s lack of expertise in procurement delivery (rather than ‘policy’) and a penchant for yes men. You’ve got a toxic mix that was always destined to grow and grow but with no discernible change in performance (except increased cost) before an almighty crash. For me, this is just the first step on that road and something to head off any incoming Minister taking a sharper knife but it can only be a delay unless they change entirely what, where, when, why and how they are trying to deliver.

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