National Audit office to probe Crown Commercial Service

The National Audit Office is to investigate how effective the government’s efforts to centralise procurement through the Crown Commercial Service have been.

The CCS was set up in 2014, in a bid to drive down the cost of buying in goods and services by using the combined commercial clout of the centre of government. The unit has been asked to save more than £2bn over the course of the current Spending Review period.

The body, set up as an executive agency of the Cabinet Office and run as a trading fund, took on several functions from departments when it was set up, including managing supplier relationships, data analysis and category management. It also takes the lead on building civil service commercial skills.

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The NAO’s new review marks the first time the public spending watchdog – whose work is used in inquiries by MPs on the public accounts committee (PAC) – has looked specifically at the work of the CCS.

The audit office said its value for money review would “focus in particular on its performance in procuring goods and services which are common to most government departments”.

“In doing so, it will consider the degree to which departments and the CCS are working together efficiently and effectively,” the watchdog added. It has set an autumn 2016 deadline for completing the work.

A recent report by PAC highlighted the apparent reluctance of some departments to get hold of temporary staff through arrangements overseen by the CCS, finding that central agreements were sidestepped for “around half” of consultancy and temporary staff assignments. 

While the committee found that the Cabinet Office had promised to “set up new agreements that are more commercially attractive to departments”, it called on the centre of government to ensure that CCS agreements were used by departments “as their default option” except where “specialist skills are required and for which the business case provides a clear justification for use of other procurement routes”.

The CCS’s first chief executive Sally Collier recently departed the organisation to take the reins as head of exams regulator Ofqual. Malcolm Harrison, who has been leading an operational review of CCS for civil service chief John Manzoni, has stepped up to serve as CCS’s interim chief exec.

Colin Marrs

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