Two commissioning support units have become the first to publicly call for bids from third parties wishing to become their long term strategic partner.

Greater Manchester CSU and Cheshire and Merseyside CSU, which plan to merge later this year, have received 30 expressions of interest after placing an advertisement on the NHS Supply2Health website.

Leigh Griffin, managing director of Greater Manchester CSU, told HSJ that without pre-judging the outcome the process was likely to result in “a couple” of partnerships. “To develop a consultancy business or provide world class intelligence services, for example, we will have to work with others,” he said. “It’s a necessary step.”

According to the advert, a strategic partnership would go beyond a supply chain relationship and could involve “an element of exclusivity” in some areas or service lines. “It could include elements such as shared risk and reward in terms of pursuing wider market opportunities”, the advert says.

Mr Griffin rejected the suggestion that any partners chosen would necessarily be first in line to take an ownership stake in the merged CSU when it became independent of NHS England in 2016.

Although a strategic partner might be party to discussions about how the north west CSU was to become independent, “it is too early to talk about the route to autonomisation”, Mr Griffin said. “That’s not the purpose of this exercise.”

Mr Griffin emphasised that the latest advert was not a tender or formal procurement, and added that he had received submissions from the private sector, charities and NHS organisations, ranging from niche providers to large scale consultancies.

“Every CSU will have been identifying supply chain arrangements,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we have captured the market and understood it.”

When they merge, the resulting CSU will cover a population of 5.1 million and have a turnover of more than £75m.

Mr Griffin said the CSUs have not decided who would be the merged organisation’s managing director.