By Kevin Seller

The Public Sector Solutions Expo was held at the ExCel London and, for the first time, was held over two days. This presented an excellent opportunity for decision-makers and influencers to pre-engage with a wide range of suppliers, with over 100 expert suppliers, 2,500 public sector professionals, and 140 speakers in attendance. Government Digital Services (GDS) and Crown Commercial Services were also prominent in the exhibition area.

There were five dedicated theatres, Commissioning and Procurement, Digital and Technology, Public Finance, Workforce and Leadership, and Assets and Estate Management. Each hosted a series of thought provoking presentations and panel discussions throughout the two days. In addition, GDS hosted a small presentation hub on their stand, where they delivered presentations and hosted Q&A drop-in sessions.

One of the highlights of day one was a panel session in the Digital and Technology Theatre, hosted by Henry Rex, Head of Public Sector at TechUK. The panel focused on bridging the public sector digital skills gap to support long term digital transformation. One particularly interesting area discussed by the panel – which consisted of Simon Leeming from DCMS, Paul Schagen of the GDS Academy, and Debbie Brown of Salford City Council – was how do we equip people with relevant skills in a fast-moving digital world. It was particularly interesting to hear Simon Leeming say that the degree with the highest rate of graduates still unemployed six months after graduating was Computer Science, because skills learnt two or three years ago are already out of date. It’s key that graduates continue to learn even once the syllabus is finished to ensure their skillsets remain relevant.

On day two, the Digital and Technology Theatre played host to a panel discussion chaired by Sue Bateman of GDS, looking at innovation in government. She was joined by Sebastian Krier, who spoke about the role of Artificial Intelligence across government, and Ian Tester, who spoke about the GovTech Catalyst. Ian explained how they select challenges to put to a range of suppliers, with 5 shortlisted suppliers being given £50k each to develop a solution. The two best solutions then receive further funding to produce a production-ready solution.

The Commissioning and Procurement Theatre opened day two with a keynote from Simon Tse, Chief Executive of Crown Commercial Services (CCS). Simon gave a very open and frank assessment of CCS. He accepted that there was still work to do, but also explained the impact they’d already had on saving money, and was particularly proud of activity in key areas – such as Education and Health – where the savings delivered were being re-invested in improving services. He also talked about the future of CCS, how they want to have a more dynamic procurement system that can see suppliers added and removed during the life of a framework. Simon also explained that he is keen to see government carry out a lot more pre-market engagement, with suppliers helping inform buying decisions.

The Public Sector Solutions Expo certainly delivered, and it’s encouraging to see more engagement between buyers and suppliers being openly sought by CCS.

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