There was a major announcement this week in UK public sector procurement. Gareth Rhys Williams (GRW), who has been Chief Commercial Officer for government since 2016 was appointed the new Chair of National Highways, which looks after major roads across the country.
I assume that Rhys Williams will therefore be standing down from his commercial role. I’ll be taking a longer look at his track record shortly, which is mixed. There have undoubtedly been some positives, but the many billions wasted on PPE during the pandemic and the infamous “VIP route” for friends of Ministers will always sit in the other column. On the other hand, I don’t see him getting involved in a business committing a huge (alleged) fraud when he eventually leaves government, unlike his predecessor…
He has also appeared recently in an exciting and inspirational video made by recruitment firm Odgers to promote a current senior vacancy in the government commercial world, the Commercial Director for the Ministry of Justice. OK, the video is not really exciting and inspirational. Rhys Williams comes over as a very decent chap, which I believe he is, but there is not a hint of charisma or energy in his “performance”. Lucy Harding, the excellent Odgers Partner and interviewer, tries her best but my goodness, it is hard going.
Indeed, my reason for writing this is to say this – the job is more interesting than you might think if you merely watch the video!
The MoJ is a very interesting and complex Department, and the Commercial Director role reflects that. You’ve got the core central department, then related organisations such as the Probation Service, Prison Service and the Legal Aid Agency. I was a Commissioner (a non-exec in effect) for its predecessor, the Legal Services Commission in about 2006-10 and just working out how to manage the £2 billion legal aid spend with the legal “market” is a task that would challenge most CPOs! And it still hasn’t been sorted out from what I can see.
There have been major capital investment construction programmes in the prison sector and the courts service, some moderately disastrous IT programmes, and probably some better ones we don’t get to hear about, and the famous prisoner tagging scandal, where the then CPO at MoJ and his colleagues put their Sherlock Holmes hats on to investigate a tangled web of dodgy supplier behaviour. (That was one of the most interesting procurement stories I ever reported on in my Spend Matters days). All in all, it really is a fascinatingly complex Department, and there is as wide a range of procurement tasks and objectives as you will find anywhere.
So if you like a challenge, go for it. You will also be working in areas that really matter to citizens. In my time as a government procurement director, I did find that genuinely satisfying, compared to buying skimmed milk power for Mars or computers for Dun & Bradstreet. You do run the risk of appearing on the front page of the newspapers – which happened to me once – but actually, that just emphasises that you will be doing stuff that matters.
I’m sure Odgers is very open to applicants with different backgrounds, so don’t think that your track record in terms of which sector(s) you have worked in matters. And in the video, GRW talks about progression. Well, there is his job to aspire to, which he doesn’t mention!
Assuming he is going soon, it would be too soon I guess for this new appointee, but that role is a possibility in the future. As GRW does say, there is also the chance to move into a non-commercial operational role in government. A very capable women who worked for me at NatWest in her early career moved into government procurement at a middle management level but ended up in a very senior and high profile line management role in the civil service.
Anyway, you’ve got to get your application in by February 25th, so you haven’t got long…