What are the most important factors in influencing UK government decisions to award new outsourcing contracts?

Global Government Forum’s latest study explores UK civil servants’ perceptions of major suppliers, and the factors that civil servants think should be given greatest weight in purchasing decisions. The survey data is fascinating.

This data should influence long term strategies of suppliers, especially those in highly competitive markets. Photo credit Pressfoto – Freepik.com

During the summer Global Government Forum surveyed over 1,000 UK civil servants, establishing a significant benchmark for measuring and tracking behaviours and attitudes across UK central government.

Global Government Forum’s analysis of the headline findings focuses on the survey’s first question. In this question civil servants answered how important they think certain factors are in influencing decisions to award new outsourcing contracts to a given organisation.

The purchasing factors

Understanding factors specific to how supplier organisations and their bids are judged and weighted is essential to refining supplier strategy. Our question asked respondents to rate factors specifically pertaining to prospective supplier organisations.

The factors were listed as follows:

• Price
• Trust
• Quality of services
• Track record of delivery in the public sector
• Good treatment of transferred staff
• Contribution to the UK economy
• Positive media coverage
• Negative media coverage
• Brand reputation
• Breadth of services
• Positive past experience (by respondents themselves)
• Size of business
• Recommendation by a colleague

Which factors are most important?

UK civil servants feel that Price, Trust and Quality of services are the most important factors influencing procurement decisions. 46.7% of civil servants think that Trust is essential (and 83% think it is either essential or important), whereas 46.5% think that Price is essential (with 94% saying that it is either essential of important). In third place – ranked behind Price and Trust – 41.1% of civil servants feel that Quality of services is an essential factor.

For 80% of civil servants, recommendations from colleagues are not important, though over half of civil servants think that taking into account ‘negative media coverage’ and ‘brand reputation’ are important, or essential (53.8% and 52.2%, respectively).


Being a new entrant to the public sector marketplace, however, is not likely to win civil servants’ favour – over three quarters (77.8%) feel that it is either essential or important to have a track record of delivery in the public sector – yet size of business is deemed less important, with only 3.9% citing this as an essential factor in influencing decisions; nor is breadth of services – only 8.3% state that this is an essential factor.

How do the views of the civil service leadership compare?

The study’s demographic questions enable the results to be broken down into various respondent sub-groups including: by seniority; department/organisation; professional role; or the extent to which respondents are involved in the procurement process and/or purchasing decision-making process.

By segmenting the survey data to focus on the civil service leadership – and by this we mean the Senior Civil Service (formerly grades 1-5) and civil servants working at grades 6 and 7 – we can obtain greater understanding from those civil servants in senior decision-making positions. While no seismic shifts are present, there are interesting comparisons to be made to the thoughts of those civil servants outside of this senior group.

Firstly, though price is still deemed most essential with 45.1% (though marginally less so than those outside of the senior group, at 2.1 percentage points lower), trust takes third place to quality of services.

Secondly, 39.8% of the senior group think that Trust is essential – compared to half (50.2%) of those outside of the senior ranks.

Third, senior civil servants place less importance on the supplier’s contribution to the UK economy: 7.4% feel this is essential, compared to 17.7% of civil servants outside of the senior group – and far more – 58.1% compared to 40.5% of the senior group – feel it is either important or essential.

Whereas there are small differences between the priorities of the civil service leadership to the rest of the civil service, the results are remarkably similar.


Civil servants involved in the UK purchasing and procurement process

Arguably the most relevant group to consider, are those civil servants that are involved in the procurement process, for example civil servants who are responsible for: identification of the need for a product/service; allocation of budget; determination of requirements, specifications or features; drafting/writing RFP Identification of potential contractors/suppliers; evaluation of proposals/bids/quotes; or for making the final decision or approving the purchase.

This important group overall consider Price to be very important (97.2% state that price is either important or essential), yet Trust is again the most essential factor sought from prospective suppliers with: 47.9% say this is essential.

Just under two thirds (64.2%) of civil servants involved in the purchasing and procurement process don’t see positive past experiences of suppliers (experienced by themselves) as important; and the large majority (82.4%) do not hold much weight in recommendations from colleagues.

Though marginally less so than those in the senior leadership group, the majority (82%) of civil servants involved in government purchasing and procurement think that having a track record of delivery in the public sector is important or essential. However, less than a quarter of civil servants in this group think it is essential.



These results provide a valuable benchmark of how these core groups within the UK civil service are behaving and where their priorities are at present.

For organisations that wish to continue to win business with government, to win more business with government, or to enter the public sector marketplace for the first time, this data is important in providing a self-diagnosis of organisations’ current standpoints. This data should therefore influence long term strategies of suppliers, especially those in highly competitive markets.

These findings are from just one of the questions asked in the survey: other questions focus directly on awareness and perceptions of the major government IT suppliers in the UK marketplace, and reveal which suppliers are the ‘top of mind’ for civil servants across the UK government, as well as which suppliers boast better awareness than their competitors in areas such as cyber-security, infrastructure, health, defence and business process outsourcing.

The survey will run on an annual basis, and together with taking into consideration changes in the UK political and economic landscape over time, results can be tracked to show how the civil service is reacting to this change in civil servants’ decision-making priorities and the way that civil servants view procurement of products and services from private sector companies.

Key Facts

  • Number of completed survey responses: 1,078
  • Senior management: (Senior Civil Servants / Grades 6 and 7) 32.1%
  • Front line delivery staff: 67.9%
  • Responses from over 100 central government departments, executive agencies, non-ministerial departments and NDPBs
  • Fieldwork carried out in July and September 2016
  • 9 core questions
  • 9 standard demographic questions

The sample is substantial, and it enables valid conclusions to be drawn and comparisons to be made: statistically, differences of +/- 2.98% or more will be statistically significant at the 95% Confidence Level. As standard with all market research, significance within sub-groups will vary.



Global Government Forum offers an end-to-end research and dissemination service, using our unparalleled access to a global audience of civil service leaders to gather information on their views, interests and needs, then analysing the results and producing authoritative and insightful reports. These may be retained by the client for market intelligence, or distributed via our website, emails and social media channels.

Our clients have various business needs, and over the years our Research Director Chris Punch has led projects – amongst other things – to position clients as thought leaders; to gather officials’ views on particular policies or agendas; to assess officials’ views of suppliers; to support arguments for reform or change; and to demonstrate the value of suppliers’ work.

  • To achieve these goals, the team applies a wide range of techniques including:
  • Identifying target audiences and generating lists of contacts
  • Tracking down hard data on the structures, shape and nature of government bodies and workforces
  • Running surveys, which typically gather more than 1,000 responses
  • Conducting one-to-one research interviews with officials, using local languages
  • Analysing quantitative and qualitative data to draw out trends and conclusions
  • Producing reports and white papers explaining the results and findings
  • Gathering quotes and input from senior officials to help assess and publicise the research
  • Distributing the results to our audience via globalgovernmentforum.com
  • Gathering leads via a system of free white paper downloads
  • Holding launch events, seminars and round tables to examine and publicise research findings
  • Stimulating interest and discussion via social media

Published reports based on our research and accompanying Global Government Forum features have attracted significant public interest, along with media coverage in the Independent, The Guardian, The Courier, The Scotsman, The Herald, Civil Service World, www.politicshome.com, The HR Director, Public Finance, Public Finance International and other titles. Links to the reports have been tweeted by the current cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, and Clare Moriarty, permanent secretary of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

If you would like us to talk you through the full results, or if you would like to run your own survey with us, please contact us at [email protected] or speak to Kevin on +44 7738 148 585 to discuss how we can help.