New report from central auditor applauds savings but says there are too many complaints about the quality of service at the procurement services agency
The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) needs to raise its game in the quality of services it provides to government, despite having helped to achieve significant savings in the past financial year, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said.
The central government auditor’s newly published report on the CCS highlights a couple of encouraging figures: public sector organisations saved £521 million in 2015-16 by using the agency’s frameworks; and the anticipated net benefits of the creation of CCS in 2104 should reach £3.3 billion by 2017-18.
But the actual net benefits to date are unknown; only seven from an expected 17 government departments currently have their spend directly managed by CCS; and this amounted to £2.5 billion by April of this year, £8 billion less than originally forecast.
Digital technology plays a significant part in the business of the CCS, with the Digital Marketplace being its best known service and the G-Cloud providing a framework for buying technology.
The NAO acknowledges the advantages of frameworks, indicating that departments spent £6.8 billion through them in 2016-17.
But only six out of 10 customers said they were happy with the CCS service, there have been complaints about its quality, and the organisation itself has reported that delivery has not always been in line with service agreements.
Among the reasons given for this are that the Cabinet Office pressed some departments to pick up CCS services quickly without focusing enough on how they should be managed. The services were not integrated or standardised, and CCS could not demonstrate that its deal are always the best available.
In addition, it is not clear exactly what spending should be centralised, and the current management believes that the initial estimates were incorrect. This has contributed to an erosion of confidence among departments in using the organisation.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “Without a sound overarching business case or a detailed implementation plan, it is not surprising that the Crown Commercial Service rapidly ran into difficulties and soon had to reset its plans.
“It is particularly disappointing that the Cabinet Office has not tracked net costs and benefits. Because of this, it is not possible to show that CCS has achieved more than departments would otherwise have achieved by buying common goods and services themselves.”
But the report says there is still a strong strategic case for joint buying, and there have been improvements in governance, risk and internal controls. Also, reforms in the way CCS works are beginning to generate goodwill around central government.
It also points to the Digital Transformation Programme in CCS, which is aimed at reducing the time taken and errors made during activities for customers, and plans for a Crown Marketplace, which will provide a digital platform customers to directly buy simple goods and services.
Image: Howard Lake, CC BY-SA 2.0 through flickr