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Last edited 20 Jan 2021
In 2011 the Cabinet Office introduced a new network of Crown Representatives to help the government act as a single customer when engaging with suppliers. This was part of the government’s strategy to ‘do business in new and innovative ways’.
There are around 20 Crown Representatives who provide a point of focus for groups of public sector suppliers, including small and medium enterprises (SMEs), voluntary organisations, large suppliers and specific sectors such as construction and infrastructure.
Working across departments, the Crown Representatives fulfil the following tasks:
- Communicate a single and strategic view of the government’s needs and requirements to the market.
- Assess and identify areas where cost savings could be made.
- Provide a focal point for cross-cutting supplier-related issues.
The policy of appointing Crown Representatives came under close scrutiny in early-2018, with the collapse of Carillion when it was found that the Representative who had been appointed to manage the relationship between Carillion and the government had been ‘rotated off’ in summer 2017, around the time it had issued a surprise profit warning. The position was then left vacant from August to November 2017 in what was described as a ‘staggering act of negligence’.
In May 2018, the joint chairs of the MPs committee that published the final report into Carillion’s collapse wrote to the Cabinet Office recommending that the system of having Crown Representatives to monitor contractors’ performance should be overhauled. Frank Field and Rachel Reeves suggested the system should be urgently reviewed to ensure that issues relating to other strategic suppliers can be detected and dealt with much earlier than they were in the case of Carillion.
Regarding the role of crown representatives, their report concluded:
'The assignment of a crown representative to Carillion served no noticeable purpose in alerting the government to potential issues in advance of company’s July 2017 profit warning. The absence of one between August and November 2017 cannot have increased the Government’s ability to keep itself informed of the direction of the company during a critical period before its collapse. This review should consider whether devoting more resources to liaison with strategic suppliers would offer better value for the taxpayer.'
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