Department of Health appoint acting Commercial Director without procurement experience

You may remember we had the scoop way back in May 2013 that Peter Coates, Commercial Director at the Department of Health, was retiring later that year. Well, he didn’t. Not our fault with the reporting, he announced he was going and then changed his mind / was persuaded to hang around for a while longer. But now we understand he is going soon. Honest. Really he is. Definitely.

Those who see PFI as a big negative for the health service might lay some of the blame at his door, in his role as one of the finance brains behind the scheme in the Department. But Coates also has some strong achievements to his name, such as developing NHS Shared Business Services operation, and leading the firm management of DHL in the Supply Chain operation.

So, given that the Department has had over a year to plan for his departure, which big-hitter have they lined up to replace the estimable Mr Coates? Some high-flying, 34 year-old dynamic young star from the Crown Commercial Service’s ever expanding roster of procurement talent? Maybe a private sector CPO who wants to bring their commercial nous and drive to the service of the taxpayer? Or what about a top commercial expert from the medical or Pharma sector, a poacher turned gamekeeper, as it were?

After all, this is a big role, with the potential to impact procurement across the whole health service. And there are some big decisions coming up in the central department too, not least the decision on whether to extend the NHS Supply Chain contract currently with DHL, or go out to market next year.

Well, for some reason, the Department doesn’t seem to have quite got round to finding anybody yet as a permanent replacement. Instead, they’ve put David Haigh into the role on a temporary basis as the interim Commercial Director. “Who?”, we hear voices from around the procurement community asking. Well, he is not the actor who played the Prime Minister in the recent re-make of Yes, Prime Minister. Or the ex Leeds United MD, recently arrested in Dubai on charges of alleged embezzlement.

As the DoH press office promptly and kindly told me:

“David Haigh is providing temporary cover to the post of Commercial Director while a formal recruitment process is under way. We expect to appoint a permanent replacement in early Autumn. David reports to Richard Douglas, Director General, Finance and NHS Directorate, who is overseeing Commercial Directorate operations until a permanent replacement is appointed.”

Haigh was Head of Workplace Pensions Reform in the Department of Work and Pensions, then I believe worked on Personal Accounts reform in DWP. He has recently returned from Australia, where he was working in the Australian Treasury. Since returning to the UK, he’s been working with Lord Patrick Carter on the procurement efficiency programme in the NHS. So – and I might be doing him a grave disservice here – he basically sounds like a spare senior civil servant for whom they needed to find a home. My sources in DWP say he is a “good guy”, so that’s positive at least.

Now we don’t support the CIPS Chief Executive’s desire to make it illegal to appoint a procurement person who doesn’t have their CIPS Certificate in hand. But sometimes, you do wonder. Was there really no-one else who could do this who had a bit of procurement experience, even just on an interim basis? But anyway, let’s see who they come up with as this permanent replacement – early Autumn isn’t far away. And good luck to Haigh in the role.

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Voices (3)

  1. LM:

    A phone call reveals that he retired at the end of August.

    I’m sure Mr Coates had an enviable reputation amongst DH colleagues as a creative financier, but let’s not forget the legacy he’s left behind for colleagues in the NHS….

    – PFI, which, according to the article below, has generated £80billion worth of long-term debt for trusts and taxpayers (I’m told the figure is closer to £100billion); forget about ‘rising demand’ – this burden will drive many trusts into the red

    – NHS Supply Chain? You mention “firm management”? They (DHL) been left to run a retail model and profiteer at enormous cost to trusts. I’m told that NHS buyers who source the same commodities direct from the same manufacturers enjoy savings of 20-30% – sometimes a lot more. To get DHL to perform better, it transpires that the DH poured £200-300m(?) of taxpayers cash through the back door to ‘encourage’ them to create some leverage – perhaps this is what creative financiers call ‘supply chain finance’

    – NHS Business Services a strong achievement? There are about 165 acute trusts in the NHS (where most of the spend/business is) and only about 25 use it. It’s cost efficient because most of the employees are off-shore in India. (The new man from the DWP could bring all of the jobs back into the UK where they can pay tax and NI…)

    – he closed NHS PASA, which resulted in procurement across the NHS going back to the dark ages, at a time when every other part of government invested more in their procurement functions. While central government spent millions educating thousands of its staff on ‘lean procurement’, many procurement teams in the NHS were deserted, to ‘push cages in basements’

    He did eradicate any history (and the hundreds of contractors) associated with the Supply Chain Excellence Programme – an astonishing waste of money which created today’s fragmented landscape (and created NHS Supply Chain, Collaborative Procurement Hubs….etc) for which we will forever be grateful.

    1. Sam Unkim:

      You get a upvote from me….. Disaster for NHS Procurement

    2. Bill:

      You forgot the ‘atlas of variation’ – surely one of the biggest PR disasters in the history of procurement in healthcare – which, if he did retire in Aug, was executed on his watch? Since it was launched the level of communication from the DH has been reduced to a trickle (a few drops here and there…). We had to find out from this website who his replacement is!

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