The NHS Commissioning Board will become a major customer of the commercial commissioning support service bodies that it will host, HSJ has learned.

The board has confirmed to HSJ that it will buy some support services including business intelligence, communications and engagement from the commissioning support market.

At a local level, opinions differ on whether arrangements will be reached between CSSs and the commissioning board’s local offices, or if the board will buy CSS services centrally.

CSSs around the country are entering into discussions with the board’s local area team directors, where these have been successfully appointed.

The 23 support organisations are being set up by primary care trust clusters, primarily to provide back office functions for clinical commissioning groups. Although they are intended to become freestanding enterprises competing in a market by 2016, CSSs will initially be “hosted” by the commissioning board, which will employ their 8,000 staff.

One CSS managing director told HSJ local negotiations with local teams were taking place “naturally” as both sides sought to keep their costs down and minimise duplication of management tasks.

Another CSS leader said his service could provide communications and finance services to local teams. He said they were also likely to need contracting and analytics support for their role as commissioners of specialised and primary care services, and that CSSs would be the NHS’s main supplier of those tools.

However, some senior commissioners expect such support services to be procured by the board centrally, rather than independently by its 27 local teams.

One local area team leader told HSJ the board should enter into national-level agreements with CSSs, as it is a single organisation, and the teams may not have the autonomy to procure themselves. He said national agreements would be more economical than 27 local contracts.

Meanwhile, HSJ has learned that a forthcoming policy report by Ernst and Young for the commissioning board is likely to recommend CCGs report to it in a similar way to public companies reporting to their shareholders.

Rather than auditing and assessing the quality of services CSSs offer, the board would instead only monitor financial indicators, such as whether they were meeting income and surplus expectations.