David Shields – MD’s departure from GPS still a mystery

David Shields departure from GPS (Government Procurement Service) is still a mystery. The man himself is being very tight lipped, which tells a story in itself. As far as we can tell from our sources, he isn’t going off to another big job somewhere – not yet, anyway. And might the very fact that no-one is saying anything suggest one of the famous “compromise agreements” is in place, reflecting a departure that is not wholly amicable?

So did Shields get to the point where he had simply had enough of what is a very tough job with a lot of pressures from various directions?  Was he angry about the Procurement Investment Fund being appropriated for use elsewhere in Cabinet Office? Or did Bill Crothers, his boss and Government CPO, just decide the time was right for a change, perhaps thinking someone else would be more acceptable to the departments in the centralisation debate? Or was Crothers pushing for certain things to happen that Shields didn’t feel were right, or achievable?  That might have led to Shields simply saying he wasn’t prepared to work in that way, and an irreconcilable breakdown between the two.

That feels like the most likely cause, but I stress this is pure speculation. We really don’t know. But the reaction from those we have spoken to is that this departure is a real negative for Cabinet Office and GPS. Whilst the senior procurement community may not always have agreed with the direction of GPS, and we all know about the battles over the centralisation agenda, Shields is personally held in high regard.

“I don’t have a huge amount of confidence in GPS ability to deliver, but what I do have is based strongly on David running the organisation” was one typical comment we heard. So anyone who thinks his going is somehow going to smooth the path to greater centralisation will, I suspect, prove to be very wrong.

Sally Collier, his replacement, is also very well regarded, but as a more general senior civil servant and policy person, not as an operational procurement person, or indeed an MD of a substantial business. Now you might say that at the CEO level, she doesn’t have to get involved in a great level of detail. But what I do know is just how hard Shields personally drove initiatives such as the data and systems programme, the up-front project planning and market engagement work, and the discipline of getting meaningful supplier performance measures.

It has needed a pretty hands on and very energetic and committed approach from him personally. Much as I respect her, I don’t see Collier providing that level of personal input, particularly from her base in Norwich. Indeed, I don’t honestly know why she has accepted this poisoned chalice, other than she is a loyal civil servant  who probably feels a sense of duty to do what she is asked to do.

Let’s try and offer some positive advice. If I was Bill Crothers, I would try very hard to get one of the departmental CPOs to come and run the operation. David Smith and Les Mosco are probably too fully engaged and perhaps too close to “retirement” (or whatever comes next for them), Peter Coates is also planning to go, Melinda Johnson hasn’t been at DfT long enough, so David Thomas (HMRC) or Vincent Godfrey (MoJ) would seem to be the best options from the big departments. I think Thomas lives in the North-West too.

I would do everything I could to get someone like that into the role, someone who has high credibility with other practitioners around Whitehall and has solid operational experience.

Or.. outsource it. More on that option perhaps later this week.

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Voices (2)

  1. Peter Sammons:

    Good luck David!

  2. Final Furlong:

    Mr Crothers has put Sally is place either to try and control the GPS in the short term, or set her up to fail in the long term. As we all observed at the PASC (where she shone over Mr Crothers) she’s a highly effective strategy/policy bod – not a procurement delivery guru. Devil in the detail which, perhaps, will soon be articulated and communicated to Departments. Who knows. I’m also wondering how it will impact upon their proposed ‘Complex Transactions Team’ et al….

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