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Civil Service

This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Building commercial capability in government

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Commercial skills, Professions

As I think about changing roles and handing over to a successor, it is perhaps a time to reflect.

Central Government spends approximately £45Bn per year ..... last year, this year, next year; that is a lot of money and we have an obligation to spend it wisely. It has been a privilege to play a part in helping us achieve that goal.

The Cabinet Secretary has a stated priority for the Civil Service to systemically and permanently improve our commercial capability. This has been my mission over the past 4 years - to drive commercial common sense in everything we do. When memories of the various commercial inefficiencies and savings fade and seem from another time, let's hope that this improvement in our capability will have become the established norm.

The past five years has seen many incremental changes and certainly too many to list here. Two though are worth mentioning: confidence and acting as one. Across Whitehall, commercial leaders now act with more confidence and increasingly act as one - as the "Crown". We spend more than any other single organisation "on this island" and have a responsibility to ensure we get the best value for what we spend as well as acting responsibly towards our suppliers. There is of course always more to be done, but the tide has changed.

In building capability, we have made good progress and have now set a clear strategy for the future, with implementation already well underway. We are recruiting graduates to build a career in Commercial and Procurement, we are recruiting senior specialists with deep expertise, we are assessing the development needs of our senior commercial leaders within departments, and we will soon be issuing a set of professional standards.

I’ve hugely enjoyed leading the Commercial Function in its set-up stage. It’s been invigorating, intellectually stimulating,and genuinely fascinating. I’m proud of the improvements we’ve already seen in our capability, and the significant savings made for the taxpayer. It’s safe to say that “commercial DNA’ is now firmly well on the way to being in the bloodstream of every department.

It is with mixed emotions that I’ve decided that now is the right time to move to the next stage in my career - and let someone new with a fresh perspective lead implementation. I will miss the challenge, stimulation and satisfaction of seeing continued improvement; however, now is the right time.

Whilst people may remember the big savings numbers and the deals, what I feel most grateful for is the opportunity this role has given me to lead the development of the commercial community. I’ve always considered that the true test of leadership is to "leave the place" better than when you arrived, and I hope that’s what I’ve been able to achieve in this role.

It’s been a honour too to work alongside some inspirational leaders, particularly Sir Jeremy Heywood, John Manzoni, Francis Maude, Stephen Kelly, John Kingman, and others across government. The Crown Representatives have also played an important role. I’m so pleased to see that "procurement and commercial" is now in the sunlight - it has made an important contribution over the past five years, and is positioned to continue to do so in today's world of continued deficit.

I am not leaving totally though, and I am delighted that Sir Jeremy Heywood and John Manzoni have asked me to help as a commercial advisor, to continue to help improve commercial capability and to advise on the most complex deals.

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