Après Collington? UK Government Chief Procurement Office rumours abound

So with the departure of John Collington from the Government Chief Procurement Officer role to seek fame and fortune on the streets of Bracknell (paved with gold, or something of a vaguely similar colour but stickier), speculation grows as to his successor. If indeed there is to be one.

I spoke to the Cabinet Office yesterday and their official line is that there is nothing they can tell me at this point. That doesn’t mean no decision has been made – it may mean that, or it may just be they don’t want to tell us yet.

I’m picking up various rumours though. Bill Crothers name has come up more than once, but that’s not a cast-iron certainty yet we believe. And surely that would be in an interim or stop-gap role?  I can’t see how they could make that a permanent appointment without some sort of competitive process - certainly not at Collington’s  grade (SCS3) without causing a riot amongst other senior procurement leaders around Whitehall. I can think of at least three who would see themselves as having as much claim to the role at that level as Crothers.

I don’t know him at all, even though he in effect took over from me as Commercial Director for the Identity and Passport Service / ID Card Programme a few years back after I’d done a very “interesting” interim stint there. He was an Accenture Partner, not in the procurement area, and was brought in by James Hall, the CEO of IPS, who was another ex Accenture partner who made millions from their flotation and then decided to do his public-spirited bit by joining the public sector.

With the death of the ID Card (thanks goodness) Crothers took over as Commercial Director at the Home Office from Collington, and more recently has been working in the Cabinet Office on the major suppliers initiatives.  But I can’t comment further on him at all - clearly very smart to have got to that level at Accenture though.

The Bill Crothers School, Canada

Then of course we do have a Deputy CPO already – David Smith. A perfect choice in many ways for the top job and an obvious replacement – but his current position running DWP Commercial is a tough and highly important role (never mind combining it with the CIPS Presidency). I don’t therefore think Smith, or anyone, could do justice to both roles simultaneously, and I’m not sure he or his Permanent Secretary would want him to move just  at the moment.

Another rumour is that the position will be in effect abolished, and the SCS3 post used for a Director General of Efficiency – a brief that would cover procurement but would roam more widely across the Cabinet Office agenda.  There is apparently some sort of review of the Efficiency and Reform Group going on, looking at its future role and structure. And of course Ian Watmore left suddenly in May, so there is some positioning going on, particularly between what were in effect  senior political appointments within Cabinet Office and the more traditional civil servants. There’s also a story that Sir Philip Green might be a surprise candidate.. no, only joking.

It’s obviously an important time for procurement in Whitehall. While I can see exactly why Collington made his decision now, there is a sense of disappointment in some quarters that he hasn’t stuck it out a bit longer. “What does it say about the importance of the CPO role if the first incumbent only lasts 18 months and goes off to  a firm no-one has heard of” was one comment I heard.

So the identity of the replacement, or the nature of any restructuring, and how it is all positioned, will be watched with interest by many in government procurement and outside. The outcome will give us some indication of where government procurement is going.

Voices (5)

  1. Final Furlong:

    Bill Crothers to be named as the next CPO next week (according to various articles this weekend)…

    1. Rob:

      Not according to this article, which is more balanced (and mentions Mr Smith first – looking at his credentials, I’m not alone in hoping that he is a shoe-in…).

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/government-computing-network/2012/jul/04/chief-procurement-officer-john-collington-resigns?newsfeed=true

      1. Final Furlong:

        Bill Crothers is the new CPO for Central Government. Official. (Just as the rumours indicated.) No idea why they didn’t try and recruit the best person for the job, rather than simply handing it to the next person.

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardian-professional/2012/jul/10/central-government-procurement?newsfeed=true

  2. Jon Hughes:

    When I used to work in the US a phrase that I encountered in Texas was the description of people with grand titles but no influence as “big hat, no cattle”. That’s certainly an appropriate phrase for many individuals in so-called CPO roles, not just John Collington. A CPO needs to be fully accountable for the total quality of procurement activity across an organisation, and have the authority and resources to influence it. Without that, it’s inevitable that the individual either fails or is fired – or more usually, both. Whenever an organisation has high levels of turnover within short periods of time in leadership roles, much more fundamental questions should be asked about the remit and the required leadership profile. At the moment the Government CPO role is not really much more than a large but highly tactical national contract director’s job. It should be far more than that. Indeed I believe that what Collington should have been doing was driving an agenda for transformation reform across the vast majority of procurement spend in the public sector. That would have been the most important procurement role in the UK, by a huge factor. Rather than deciding which individual goes into the current role – and recognising that none of the current candidates are remotely capable of driving the change that is required – there should be a much more fundamental reassessment of what is needed, from the Cabinet and Maude down. Time to measure up an altogether bigger hat for a vastly more influential role.

    1. Final Furlong:

      Indeed, whichever way you look at it, too many cowboys.

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