David Smith retires – are Cabinet Ofice cheering?

So some further thoughts around the retirement of David Smith, the Commercial Director for the Department of Work and Pensions and last year’s CIPS President.  We’ll save the valedictory for when he actually goes, but this is the end of an era – the longest serving central government CPO by some distance I believe, hanging up his negotiating boots. With a couple of the other long-serving CPOs likely to go in the next year or so, it feels like a change of cast for the drama that is UK government procurement...

Personally, I thought he might have decided to retire sooner – perhaps see through the transition to the new administration in 2010 then call it a day. But with a new CFO and Permanent Secretary coming into DWP around that time, I think he was persuaded to stay on and provide some important continuity for DWP. The Department was and still is going through some huge change programmes – Universal Credit, Welfare to Work, Personal Independence Payment – all of which had (and indeed still have) significant procurement implications.

Will his departure be good news for the Cabinet Office’s Crown Commercial Service (CCS) and centralisation agenda? Well, word is that Smith hasn’t exactly been the biggest fan, and after the poor handling of the Deputy CPO appointment a while back there has been a certain understandable tension.

But before anyone in CCS gets too excited, don’t underestimate Andrew Forzani, the new DWP Commercial Director. Beneath the mild-mannered exterior there is a tough character, as I found when I once had to negotiate with him.  He’s both very rational and pretty direct, so will very much want to do the right thing for  DWP, and I don’t think he will be afraid to speak up if he feels he is being asked to do otherwise.

Having said that, and even with a strong senior team in place in DWP Commercial, Forzani will have his work cut out with the major programmes mentioned above, so I don’t see him objecting to the CCS taking on much of the “common category” work. I guess the line in the sand and the arguments may be seen around the big DWP IT projects, if the CCS “complex transactions team” does get off the ground.

Back to David Smith - we should all hope that he stays involved with the profession in some way, which I think he will. Apart from his core commercial and procurement skills and general nous, he is one of the very best presenters I’ve heard in my career, able to make procurement sound interesting, important and worthwhile, all with a few jokes thrown in. That’s a rare skill. Get him touring the universities and we’d see a big increase in bright kids joining the profession I’m sure!

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