Last December, the government published a Green Paper on Transforming Public Procurement. It stressed that investments should be subject to consideration of the public good, including supporting national priorities. It discussed leveraging commercial activity to achieve social and environmental value. For our good practice guidance for managing the commercial lifecycle, we examined similar opportunities and […]
Posted on November 25, 2021 by Iain Forrester
Last December, the government published a Green Paper on Transforming Public Procurement. It stressed that investments should be subject to consideration of the public good, including supporting national priorities. It discussed leveraging commercial activity to achieve social and environmental value.
For our good practice guidance for managing the commercial lifecycle, we examined similar opportunities and how to support them. We shared fresh insights and learning from our extensive body of work on government’s commercial activities. In this latest post, I will share some of our insights on commercial strategy.
Commercial strategy means thinking about the overall approach to ensure that procurement and other commercial activities provide the outcomes that government wants and benefit us all. This is the part of our guidance which really focuses on the context around what government does when it runs a competition or revises a contract, and the importance of joining up different elements.
Joining up commercial strategy is vital if government wants to achieve its wider aims as well as value for money. That includes establishing a consistent approach to risk management, and the organisational capacity and capability to respond to uncertainty. It is also where other considerations come in, including where procurement can be a lever for larger goals like encouraging innovation or diversifying the landscape of suppliers to government. Commercial strategies should demonstrate how each commercial agreement aligns with wider strategic objectives and how this is then reflected in the approach for managing commercial risks and incentives throughout the commercial lifecycle.
A couple of our past reports give good examples of the importance of joining up strategy at the programme level and more widely.
In 2018 we reported on The Ministry of Defence’s arrangement with Annington Property Limited, a sale and leaseback arrangement for accommodation. As part of our review, we found that the timetable for developing the Ministry of Defence’s wider estate strategies was not aligned with the timetable for rent reviews. The department was developing a ‘Future Accommodation Model’ intended to provide personnel with more flexible accommodation options. However, the timing meant that its negotiations on the sites with Annington would begin before a decision was taken on the wider model. This affected its ability to develop negotiating strategies for these sites. We recommended that the department align the timetables to use realistic scenarios in its negotiations, giving it a clearer strategic view.
Leveraging procurement across government
On a wider scale, we reported in 2016 on the government’s spending with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The government recognised that SMEs could offer many benefits to the public sector, including flexibility, innovation and better value for money due to lower overhead costs, as well as increasing local investment and improving social outcomes. We recommended that the government should take a more focused approach, identifying where SMEs could bring the most benefit, and look into an integrated cross-government procurement platform to support its commercial strategy. The government has since introduced guidance for SMEs applying for contracts and promised to invest in joining up the different procurement systems. The intention is that this will help drive the commercial benefits from better data sharing – as part of changes to procurement processes following exit from the European Union.
That is an example of the kind of strategic approach to identifying risks and opportunities which we want to see applied consistently across organisations, and we look forward to seeing how government’s follow-up to Transforming Public Procurement would help to further encourage this.
What good looks like
Our good practice guide sets out areas of improvement and outlines our expectations of best practice, with specific case study examples that demonstrate some of these expectations of a joined-up commercial strategy. They include:
- Commercial, policy, operational and business teams work together to develop a clear understanding of the contracts and produce required outcomes
- Each contract staffing model is developed early, regularly reviewed and tailored to different contract stages
- Capability plans include operational resilience to address unplanned demands
- Knowledge and experience of underlying contract issues is retained throughout the lifecycle of a commercial relationship
- There is investment in the organisation and its people to ensure adequate access to training and development to support commercial awareness and expertise.
About the author
Iain Forrester is a qualified accountant with long experience of working on the NAO’s commercial and contracting related work. This has included cross-government work on grants, shared services, EU Exit, and the government’s response to COVID-19. He also worked on the commercial and contract management insights guide published in 2016.
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